With seven new faces in the form of five freshmen and two transfer students, the men’s (6-8, 1-1 Big East) and women’s (9-4, 1-3 Big East) tennis teams now boast a freshman class with three five-star recruits and four four-star recruits, demonstrating the players’ high performance levels that have been developing since their high school athletic careers.
“I have so much to say about this whole group of freshmen, and anyone who knows me and has been around the team at Georgetown and my older kids, they know how much love I have for this whole group,” Head Coach Gordie Ernst said. “What an amazing group of kids.”
For many of the freshmen, the transition from high school to college was easy. However, adjusting to play against other top teams at a collegiate level was initially a challenge for some.
“I feel like college was a pretty easy adjustment,” freshman Michael Chen, a five-star recruit from New Jersey, said. “The sports were tough in the beginning, like we’d have lift and then practice all in the same day, but being that it’s the second semester I’ve adjusted well to all of that stuff so I’m happy about that.”
Freshman Will Sharton and sophomore transfer Bart Panarese joined Chen in the new group of athletes on the men’s tennis team. On the women’s side, freshmen Risa Nakagawa, Sydney Goodson, Cecilia Lynham and sophomore transfer Sara Swift have joined the ranks.
“They all have great personalities, they all know how to get the jokes, they all have a great sense of humor, they all love to battle and compete. … They all have these different personalities but they all have the common denominator of wanting to win for the team,” Ernst said.
Lynham, Goodson, Nakagawa and Swift have all earned spots in the starting lineup for the women’s team. Nakagawa, who has occupied the second singles slot for a majority of the season, currently posts a 9-2 singles record. Swift has also impressed in the singles category, boasting an 8-3 singles record. Goodson, like Nakagawa, is a versatile player who can dominate in both singles and doubles play. The Great Falls, Va. native has gone 6-2 in singles play and 7-3 in doubles play.
“[Sydney has] come in here and just been such an incredible kid in so many different ways,” Ernst said. “She’s a great athlete, another team person. Lily Lynham — she had a few tight losses — but Lily, she’s won a lot of good matches in her junior career and I think she’s starting to figure out and really learn what college tennis is and every single day [she’s] bringing that high competitive spirit.”
Like the freshmen on the women’s team, Chen and Sharton have played consistently thus far in the men’s team’s campaign. Panarese — younger brother of former Georgetown women’s captain Sophie Panarese (COL ’15) — has also earned playing time on several occasions. Sharton has competed in 12 of the team’s 15 matches thus far this season, while Panarese has contributed on both the doubles and singles ends.
“I’ve known Will and Bart since I’d been 10 years old, 10 or 11 years old, so it’s really been honestly pretty crazy to see the transformation from when we were like 5 feet tall to now when we’re both playing college tennis,” Chen said.
Chen, who currently boasts a 7-4 singles record and 7-5 doubles record, has found success early on. The New Jersey native paired up with junior Jordan Portner in the first doubles slot for the majority of the season. Their success — and Portner’s mentorship — has helped Chen adjust to college tennis.
“I definitely consider Jordan as somewhat of a mentor because he’s been teaching me the ropes and helping me get really well adjusted into college tennis and I’m very thankful for that,” Chen said of Portner. “Just like all the other upperclassmen, I feel like they’re making this transition very comfortable for me.”
One of the most significant changes between high school and college tennis, according to Chen, is that the sport is much more team-oriented rather than simply about individual performance. As opposed to competing in individual tournaments as they did in high school, these athletes now must widen their focus to every person on the team.
“I feel like I’ve definitely embraced the team aspect a lot more now than I thought I would. I’m definitely loving all of the guys, it’s great practicing with them every day, I don’t feel as if it’s a chore or anything,” Chen said. “I wake up early in the morning and go practice with them, I enjoy it, I think it’s a great time.”
Junior Sophia Barnard agreed, explaining that the newcomers on the women’s team have quickly adapted to this team mentality.
“I think the more experience the better,” Barnard said. “With college tennis, it’s a big difference from playing in juniors when you’re younger, so you can only get better and I think that getting more confortable in the team aspect will only make them get better and help the team even more.”
After seeing the freshmen’s dominance in Georgetown’s regular-season play this season, Ernst has begun to envision the roles these players will take in the upcoming years of the tennis program.
“To me it always goes so fast, their four years, so all of a sudden I’m looking at my freshmen and thinking, ‘Wow, when they’re seniors, they’re going to be amazing teammates and captains to the younger kids,’” Ernst said. “That’s really what I say about Will and Mike, they’re those types of kids, everyone loves them. Everyone loves them but everyone respects them, so you have both.”
Developing positive relationships with their teammates and demanding respect from their opponents have become integral for the freshmen in becoming seasoned tennis players, which is what they search for when they enter varsity athletics at the college level. For Chen, Georgetown was the right place for him to achieve these goals.
“I already knew about Georgetown, and of course its academics and its great athletics, so to be totally honest, when I took my official visit here, I fell in love with the place and knew I wanted to come here,” Chen said. “I took visits to other places but in my heart I knew I wanted to be a Hoya.”
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