Opinion: We played for one another


From left: Senior Ana Sofia Cordero, junior Xiwei Cai and junior Yana Golovkina stand courtside Monday, March 13, 2017, while supporting fellow teammates during a match against Alabama State University in Montgomery. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By athena chrysanthou

As an athlete I embrace the adrenaline and emotions I go through in competitive situations.

But as a teammate, I never face those feelings alone.

When I play a match I stand on the court as an individual facing an opponent with one goal in mind: to win. Not to win for me, but to win for the nine other girls on my team.


One of the valuable lessons being on the Saluki women’s tennis team has taught me is that it’s not about me.

Three years ago, this was a hard idea to come to terms with. Throughout my competitive years as a pre-collegiate athlete I competed as an individual, as most people do before joining a college team.

Not only do I now know what a team is, but more importantly the life lessons and values that come with being part of one so diverse.

Players from all different regions of the world ranging from China to Ukraine, Peru and Slovakia made up the last men’s and women’s tennis team for the 2016-17 season.

Even though we all came from different backgrounds we learned to build lifelong bonds and friendships through team experiences and a passion for tennis.

Athlete life is not easy and even though I have a team beside me, the reality can sometimes mean I feel lonely, sad and exhausted.


Practice before the sun rises, twelve hour bus rides and the nagging injuries that can set athletes back for weeks are all a staple of athlete life.

What is special about a team is, the individuals never go through a struggle alone. They share the injuries, the wins, the bus rides and the losses as a team.

Suffering and savoring these moments is what creates memories and helps tie the bonds between myself and my teammates.

Senior Meagan Monaghan sleeps on the bus Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, on the way to compete in a match against Eastern Illinois University with the Saluki women’s tennis team. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

I am lucky enough to still be with girls that I started with as a freshman three years ago. Along the way on both the men’s and women’s side, players have moved on or graduated.

It was not until former teammates left that I realized how much I missed them, and how much they made an impact on me.

I realized how much they taught me in terms of leadership and how to be there for my teammates at the worst times.

Dealing with adversity is a part of life and hearing about the cut of the tennis team was one such example.

We had a choice: either let it kill our motivation or let it push us to work harder.

After the news, we chose the latter.

We all needed to step up as leaders and make some tough decisions earlier than expected.

Senior Polina Dozortseva and junior Athena Chrysanthou embrace on Saturday, April 15, 2017, during a senior day awards ceremony following the final home match in program history. In January, SIU athletics announced that it would cut the men’s and women’s tennis teams effective July 1. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Throughout this semester we have been supportive and emphasized the importance of enjoying each others’ company as time was limited.

As I walked off the court for the last ever time on Sunday, it hit me. I was no longer a student athlete. Tennis has defined me for most of my life — like the majority of the girls on my team — and now it is over forever.

Losing the final to Wichita State was tough. Not just because we lost, but because it was the last time we would ever compete as a team.

At the end of the match we stood in a familiar circle facing one another. This time however, it was different.

We stood in silence and in tears. There were no words to describe how proud we felt at that moment for coming so far.

Saluki women’s tennis players place their hands together Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, at Garden Grove Event Center in Carbondale during their first practice after hearing the news the team would be cut after this semester. Director of tennis Audra Anderson said the upperclassmen and maturity of the team help make the difference during this time. “It fires me up even more to have the best season,” Anderson said. “If anything it will help us because you don’t have anybody sitting back and saying ‘well there’s next year.’” (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

We played the last tournament not for ourselves, but for each other. We played for all the 6 a.m. practices, for our parents who believed in us from the beginning and for everyone that supported us along the way.

It is not about how you start, it’s how you finish. As a team we walked away from the last match leaving everything on the court. We proved to ourselves that we can deal with adversity, and by supporting each other we can be successful. We competed with our hearts and fought until the last ball was hit.

I am proud to say that I was a member of the Saluki women’s tennis team, and I am incredibly thankful to have spent my years at SIU with girls who made me who I am today. Even though there is no SIU women’s tennis team anymore, in our hearts we will still be a team forever.

Staff writer Athena Chrysanthou can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Chrysant1Athena

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