May 10, 2012
SEATTLE - Being at home for a young tennis prodigy typically means moving around the familiar white lines of the 36-by-78-foot court. Committing oneself to a high level of tennis means extensive travel and potentially far-flung academies with other displaced young phenoms. After living out the globetrotting life for most of his teenage years, Emmett Egger made the decision to head back home for college, and found himself yet again in an entirely new world.
The ability of Egger to adapt quickly to face each challenge before him is a big reason that the Huskies are back in the NCAA Championships, the latest in a streak that has now reached voting age at 18 years. And the Issaquah, Wash. native is now truly feeling at home as a Husky.
"It's been a great year both on and off the court," says Egger in the lobby of the Nordstrom Tennis Center, another home-away-from-home. "I really enjoyed my classes and have made some great friends. It's been really fun to play as a team. Not too often you get to do that in tennis and it's a pleasure to be a part of that. It's extremely easy to come into the locker room with guys that are always nice and considerate and working hard which makes the practice more interesting."
While UW's perennial postseason inclusion can start to feel like a foregone conclusion, it's important to remember the unique identity of every single team, and that they all began with zero wins and zero losses.
This year's group certainly had its share of question marks, as UW needed to replace four-year starters Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Martin Kildahl, and Tobi Obenaus. Only juniors Kyle McMorrow and Marton Bots had a full season of experience in the singles lineup.
Much was expected and much was required of UW's group of newcomers, led by Egger, if the Dawgs wanted to be a factor again in the NCAA tourney. As one of the top recruits in the nation, with extensive junior experience at all four junior Majors, and the Junior Davis Cup, Egger's accomplishments spoke for themselves, even if Egger himself is typically softspoken. A blue chip recruit according to tennisrecruiting.net, ranked in the top-10 for his age group at each stop, Egger was highly sought after.
Despite the outward expectations, once he committed to Washington, Egger only felt pressure to do one thing. "There was more pressure to make sure I'm being a positive addition to the team, and that pressure is there whether you're a senior or a freshman," the freshman says. "No matter what kind of recruit you are, make sure you're doing the best to help out the team. That was my concern."
Washington has by all accounts been a close-knit group this year, eager for each other to succeed. Egger, fellow true freshmen Viktor Farkas and Jeff Hawke, and second year Huskies Max Manthou and Nicholas Kamisar have all been asked to take on critical roles during the dual season, with Egger leading the way by starting every match in the top half of the singles lineup.
Egger has been a positive addition in every way, including in the win-loss column. And now here are the Huskies, with a 16-8 record, back in the tournament with a first round match this Friday against North Carolina State in a regional hosted by Pepperdine. Egger's 20 singles wins are second most on the team, and he heads into his first NCAA tournament with four consecutive singles wins.
Facing the typical rigors of year one in college is tough enough, but Egger had the added adjustment of not having been in a typical classroom setting since elementary school. He withdrew from public school after the fourth grade to pursue the tennis dream, first being home schooled and taking online classes, and later moving to Dallas to the Brookhaven Academy where every student had tennis as their real major.
"I was very out of place the first four weeks at the start of the school year. Just figuring out my classes and trying to manage my time, how to study, what to do, the whole new environment took time to adjust. And spring quarter we traveled quite a bit I had to learn how to be productive academically on the road. There's been a lot of challenges, some I have met and some I haven't, but it's been a fun ride," says Egger, who now is planning to pursue a Political Science major, having taken one Poli Sci class each quarter.
Then came the steep learning curve of Pac-12 play. On the junior circuit, Egger was used to seeing many of the same faces at tournament after tournament. "Usually I'd have seen a guy play like a hundred times, and If I hadn't, someone else at the tournament had," said Egger. But this spring Egger was going up against a string of highly-ranked players, many who were several years older, stronger, and more experienced. "I didn't know half the guys I played this year. It's definitely a little different. Now the coaches give me scouting reports on some guy I've never heard of."
The Huskies and Egger had to endure some growing pains against the top teams, which they hope will make them better prepared for the NCAA tournament this week, as well as storing the experiences away for motivation this offseason and into next year.
From March 21 to April 13, Egger played six ranked opponents in seven matches, with five of those players ranked in the top-40 nationally. While Egger did not break through with the upsets, nearly every set in that span was decided by a single break or went into a tiebreak. Though he was not quite getting over the hump, Egger's fighting spirit never waned. And he continued to want back out on the court.
"It was tough losing a few times in a row. It takes its toll, but definitely spurs some motivation," Egger says. "Getting your butt kicked means you just have to go out and find a way to get better so next time you're on the court you're beating them. Some of the guys I played did some things I was working on and playing tough competitors forces you to step up to play that level."
Husky tennis enjoys a great, loyal fan base that fills the Nordstrom Tennis Center each year regardless of the players' hometowns, but it was evident this season that Egger increased the crowds with a big support system of his own that was there for him each step of the way.
"It's great, Seattle is my favorite place to be. A lot of my family has come out, who weren't able to easily make a trip to Dallas. I was unsure for awhile, but the first day of practice and the first day of school I knew it was right. I was so happy with the coaches and my teammates."
Egger bounced back with wins against Arizona and Oregon to close out the regular season, then was 2-0 in the Pac-12 Tournament against Arizona and California. He's working with Coach Anger on staying more on top of the baseline on his forehand side, and getting his racquet tip around on his backhand, but really, says Egger, "I'm just working on everything."