Hope College men, Linfield College women receive May ITA National Team Sportsmanship Award
SKILLMAN, NJ (May 15) - The Hope College men's and Linfield College women's tennis teams have been honored as the recipients of the 2014 Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Team Sportsmanship Award for the month of May.
The ITA National Team Sportsmanship Award is a monthly award that goes to one men's and one women's team that has exemplified outstanding sportsmanship, character and ethical conduct in the true spirit of competition and collegiate tennis. The winners are selected by the ITA Ethics and Infractions Committee from nominations received from all ITA member institutions (NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA and Junior/Community Colleges). This monthly award began in 2004.
The Hope College Flying Dutchmen, a Division III program, is coached by Steve Gorno, who is in his 22nd year as head men's tennis coach.
The Flying Dutchmen were nominated by a fellow Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference opponent.
Hope was set to play an outdoor spring match at Alma College, but its coach called Coach Gorno to discuss postponing the match since Alma's courts had snow on them. Alma's indoor facilities were an option, but its courts were made of a non-traditional tennis surface with multiple lines. The two teams had played at the indoor facility in the past in similar circumstances.
Historically, Hope had dominated this match up having won every dual match with Alma dating back to 1993. However, Hope had graduated four of its top five singles players from the previous season and was missing two of its top three singles players from this year's squad. As both coaches expected a much closer battle than in years past, Coach Chris Sandro expected Coach Gorno to agree to postpone the match, but the Hope coach said he wouldn't agree to play one year with a strong team on an indoor court then not agree the next year with a younger team.
On the decision to play the match, Gorno said, "Injuries, inclement weather and home court advantage are all part of competition and overcoming adversity is one of sport's most valuable life lessons. We can't expect our players to have the courage to act with integrity on the court if we don't have the courage as coaches to model that behavior off the court. We made the decision as a team to play the match despite less than ideal circumstances because we felt it was the right thing to do; it is their indoor tennis facility and it was available for our scheduled match. Rescheduling to avoid playing on these courts would have felt dishonest."
Alma ended up defeating Hope, coming back to win the final three singles matches for a thrilling 5-4 victory - their first win over Hope in over two decades. "Coach Gorno agreed to play an indoor match, even when it wasn't in the best competitive interest of his team." Sandro said, "Integrity, sportsmanship, character, values; these are the types of things that we should all make sure we are passing on to our players, they are more important than any win."
On the match itself, Coach Gorno said, "As a coach, I couldn't be prouder of my players - not just for how hard they fought to meet the challenges we faced that day, but also how they handled a hard-fought defeat with humility, grace, and class. We had opportunities to win but Alma's players came up big under intense pressure to earn that victory. In the end, we lost to a team and a coach that display the same level of exceptional sportsmanship that this award represents."
The Linfield College Wildcats, a Division III school, are coached by first year head coach Lisa Macy-Baker.
Macy-Baker's team is known in their conference for being intense competitors who had won seven straight Northwest Conference titles. During the conference tournament semifinal, the Wildcats faced Whitworth for at third time in the season. The match was a classic, intense battle which came down to close three-set matches. Linfield was incredibly supportive of its teammates while showing great respect for their opponents as they advanced to another conference final.
The next day, Linfield faced Whitman in what would be its final match of the season, the conference championship final. Whitman ended the Wildcats' seven-year hold on the title, but the Linfield squad showed great sportsmanship despite the loss. Several players individually congratulated the Whitman players and as a team they cheered for us and wished the Pirates luck representing the conference at the NCAAs.
"In the huddle after the loss to Whitman, we reminded the team about the thrill of victory (what we had the night before) and the agony of defeat; but more importantly, the spirit of competition," Macy-Baker said. "We talked about the fact that now that the match was over, Whitman was no longer our opponent, but our teammate since it was their job to represent the conference at regionals. To close the huddle, our emotional senior leader (who just played the last match of her successful career at No. 1 singles and had won 100+ victories for Linfield in her 4 years) said, 'ok, good luck Whitman on 3.' That was our chant to end the season."
Linfield's women's team is regarded as displaying a combination of intensity on court, fair play and graciousness towards their opponents.
Coach Macy-Baker said, "It is an honor to receive the award and to validate one of team goals - to compete with the highest level of sportsmanship by always appreciating the competition in victory and defeat."
About the ITA
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) is the governing body of college tennis, overseeing men's and women's varsity tennis at NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA and Junior/Community College. The ITA administers a comprehensive awards and rankings program for men and women varsity players, coaches and teams in all divisions, providing recognition for their accomplishments on and off the court. For more information on the ITA, visit the ITA website at www.itatennis.com, like the ITA onFacebook or follow @ITAtennis on Twitter.