Allie almost does not have time to meet with me. Her classes are scheduled around practice time and her free time around that. On the day that we are able to meet, she is on her way to practice in preparation for the SUNYACS–or the State University of New York Athletic Conference.
Allie Starke, a senior Business major and co-captain of the SUNY New Paltz Women’s Tennis Team, began playing tennis at the tender age of five, something she describes as being “in her blood.”
From a young age, Starke knew that she wanted to play tennis at the collegiate level. “I’ve been [playing] tennis my whole entire life [and] it would’ve felt weird to go to college not playing the sport I grew up with,” said Starke. “I would feel like a part of me was missing.”
For Starke, becoming acclimated to collegiate level athletics did not come without difficulties. An athlete is handed a uniform and a tennis racquet, and with that, an impermeable and seemingly unbreakable set of stereotypes. “Being an athlete means you’re a part of the athletic world,” Starke said. “All of the athletes know one another.”
In the experience of both her and her peers, it is easier to make friends with and bond with people who fully understand the demanding nature of being a part of a team in college—one that requires members to dedicate two or three hours a day to their sport and give their weekends during season completely up to matches. Instead, this is what gives those who participate on college teams a mislabeled reputation as being cliquey and snobby.
Starke explains that people often associate the word athlete with people who are cocky or one-dimensional. But everyone has their own hobby, and whether it be music, arts, or athletics, Starke finds it important for students to find an area on campus where they feel free to express themselves.
Photo Courtesy: nphawks.com
Above all else, Starke has expressed her desire for people to understand the intensity of the game that people frequently label as “not a sport.” The New Paltz Women’s Tennis Team begins preseason in August, one week before classes begin, and is put through conditioning and scrimmages for five to six hours a day.
If the player is smart, it will not be the first time they’ve picked up their racquet in months, as Starke insists that the tennis season never truly ends. The sport is a commitment that doesn’t cease, even during off seasons. Starke is still maintaining what she calls her “tennis shape,” which ensures that she can not only keep up physically during a match of tennis, but mentally as well.
“Every sport is a mental game, but in tennis you’re out there by yourself,” said Starke. “It’s just you, your opponent and a tennis ball. You have to be able to forget if you have a bad point and move on right away.”
Yet in a game so intimate, it’s easy to get lost in one’s thoughts and dwell on previous mistakes, and if that happens, the match is as good as over. “You can’t get mad at yourself. You have to have a positive outlook,” said Starke. “You have to stay strong, good-willed, and fight through it.”
It is advice like this that Starke is not short on, as she is insistent on being somewhat of a maternal figure to her teammates, particularly the freshmen players. During her freshman year she was very self-conscious and scared of both collegiate tennis and her intimidating upperclassmen. Keeping her personal experiences in mind, she remains continuously conscious of the atmosphere she crafts both on and off the court, in an effort to make each incoming player feel as welcome and comfortable as possible. “I want to be there for them no matter what.”
College athletics is so much more than your name on a roster– it’s the foundation in which work ethic is developed, character is strengthened, and friendships are grown. It’s not all fun and games–but it’s a little bit of that, too.