Missouri tennis players take time to be students

Thursday, October 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA—  Missouri tennis head coach Blake Starkey wants to make sure his team doesn’t forget the student part of student-athlete.

Fall for a typical Missouri student means the football season has started, and many hang out with friends and enjoy cheering on the Tigers together. The tennis team uses these games as one of its excuses to get off the court by going to the games together.

Senior Kristen Bleakley said the typical process before a football game is for the team to meet at the Green Tennis Center, then walk over to the stadium together and meet whoever is saving the seats.

“I know the girls really like going to the games and just being a student,” Starkey said. “They know a lot of guys on the team, and it’s really fun for them to just go.”

Starkey said he typically tries to schedule the fall season around the football schedule, but sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way everybody would like.

“They actually pushed (ITA) regionals back a week. I would have never scheduled anything on a Texas home weekend,” Starkey said smiling. “It’s painful. They’re all mad at me even though it is not my fault.”

Starkey and senior Sofia Ayala then continued to have an argument on who was the bigger football fan.

Just as important as the team's trips to the football stadium is the players’ other time spent away from athletics. Junior Kaitlyn Ritchie said she thinks most student-athletes need time away from their sports.

“My large group of friends is outside of athletics, none of my roommates are athletes,” she said. “There is certainly times for me where I don’t want to be singled out as an athlete, but, you know, kind of blend in. Sometimes I would rather not go to bed (earlier) since I have weights at six in the morning.”

Ritchie is also quick to point out she is lucky to have the opportunity to be here at MU under different circumstances than most other students. All the tennis players are on a full scholarship.

“I have to remind myself that such a small amount of people get this opportunity,” Ritchie said. “Not many people get to play something they love at this type of level, and all of it is so worth it.”

Bleakley agrees that she loves the times where she gets to kick off her tennis shoes and gets to concentrate on being a student by going to the football games or hanging out with her friends. She said that without those times, most players would get overwhelmed.

“I’m like that (relaxed) a lot,” Bleakley said. “I mean we wouldn’t be able to be well, or do well, on the court if we didn’t do those types of things.”

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