COLUMBIA — The Hickman boys tennis team does not have any cheerleaders. They have Daniel Hwang.
The Kewpies beat Jefferson City 7-2 on Monday at Cosmopolitan Park, thanks in part to a No. 2 singles victory from Hwang, as well as his passionate cheering.
At 5 feet, 9 inches tall, Hwang does not have a lot of power. So instead the senior uses strategy and a lot of energy and hustle to his advantage. Hwang does not give up on any point until the volley is over.
"He's scrappy," Hickman coach Andrew Materer said. "He gets the ball back in play. He's not going to beat himself. But he'll wear you down. He's lighting quick."
Hwang also uses something that everyone who plays tennis could, but rarely does: enthusiasm. Noticeable enthusiasm.
Anyone within earshot of where the Kewpies are playing will notice Hwang before any other player. He screams encouragements to himself and teammates after almost every point and hops and jumps around like a child on Christmas morning.
"Let's go" is something that can be heard from anywhere near the court when Hwang scores a point. "C'mon Daniel," he screams at himself.
"I feel like tennis is a sport where mental endurance is a real factor in how well you can do," Hwang said. "So by talking to myself, I try to make sure my mental acuteness is still up. Just trying to keep on top of my game."
The enthusiasm Hwang brings to the court is something Materer likes and wants to see in other players, too.
"I tell these guys, forget this tennis game where we act like it's golf," Materer said. "It's not. I want our players to be louder out there. He's hopefully a model for that.
"I'd like to see us all pumping our fists more and all yelling at ourselves out there a little bit more. You have to have a dialogue going on with yourself while you're playing because it's a one-on-one competition and that dialogue has to be telling yourself to do better, to compete harder and you've got to tell yourself what to do right out there."
Hwang definitely used that strategy Monday, and it might have even been what helped him win his match.
After losing the first set 2-6 to Jefferson City's David Clausen, Hwang continued his boisterous self-energizing cheers. He won the second set 6-3, and continued the rally in the third set, winning 10-2.
"Daniel's definitely a huge mental player," Hwang's doubles partner Junyi Wu said. "Like what he did out there to Clausen at No. 2. Clausen was hitting some great shots, but Daniel just got into his head and he totally lost confidence in his shots and started missing."
Hwang's loud cheers go far beyond just cheering himself on. He screams to pump up Wu in their doubles matches and even yells across courts to try and help teammates in theirs.
"C'mon Junyi" is something Hwang screams often after Wu scores in their doubles matches. He also yells encouragement to other teammates.
"If other people are feeling down, my goal is to create synergy for them and help them to increase their confidence," Hwang said.
"It's just always something I've tried to do."
Wu appreciates the cheers when they are in need of a pick-up.
"His energy definitely brings up the mood," Wu said.
Materer said he was encouraged by the Kewpies' performance Monday after a tough 0-3 streak over the weekend against what the coach calls three of the best five teams in the state (Rock Bridge, Parkway Central and Lafayette-Wildwood).
"It was an excellent day for us," Materer said. "We came out and played our best dual of the season. We were really intense, and we pulled out all the pressure points today. Things fell our way because the guys were aggressive under pressure."
The Kewpies (3-3) play next on Wednesday in the Springfield Invitational.