Seniors Stith, Tateishi Will Share Lifetime Bond
April 20, 2012
SEATTLE - Matt Stith remembers sitting at the season-opening banquet before his first dual season as a member of the Husky Men's Tennis team was about to begin. He listened to Head Coach Matt Anger telling the large freshman class how quickly it all goes by and to take advantage of the transformative period to come. But the older and wiser Stith admits the advice fell on deaf ears at the time.
"You hear Coach saying that it flies really fast, and you think `No way! I have five years, it's going to take forever!' says Stith, sitting in the Nordstrom Tennis Center lobby where he has spent a huge chunk of his college life. "So it hasn't really hit me, but it's been quick, and I've had so many good times."
Also sitting in that room that night was Skyler Tateishi. He and Stith made up a big freshman class that included Martin Kildahl, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, and Tobi Obenaus. The latter three wrapped up their careers last season, while Stith and Tateishi each redshirted, giving them an extra year together that has brought them as close as brothers.
"I know that Matt and I are going to be friends for the rest of our lives," said Tateishi. "It's great that we've been through adversity together, we've celebrated good times together. We've gotten to know each other better and better over the years. He's a great guy, great tennis player, great teammate."
Stith, the native of Santa Barbara, Calif., says that while the past five years may have sped by, "I feel like I've known Skyler forever. He's like my brother."
The two have been the ultimate team players over the past five years, representing the University of Washington with the utmost class, and contributing to the winning tradition of Husky tennis that is on track to reach the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in their careers, and the 18th year in a row. Saturday's home match against Oregon marks their final home appearance, and there is a lot on the line, as the winner will earn the No. 5 seed for next week's Pac-12 Team Championships.
Stith says, "I just want to make the most of Saturday and play my best, and go out there and beat the Ducks."
This has been the best year yet for Stith, who has been firmly entrenched in the starting doubles lineup all season. Prior to this season, Stith had started just eight total dual matches, but this season alone has seen him make 17 starts, and his 14 total doubles wins this year are one off the team lead. He and junior Marton Bots have been coming on especially strong of late, starting with a win at Stanford, and then consecutive 8-2 victories last week as they moved up to the No. 2 doubles spot and beat Utah and Arizona.
Stith, the loudest voice of encouragement over the last four seasons, is enjoying earning his own cheers in this last year.
"Me and Marton have been playing really well recently. Together, our synergy has been awesome. He's been playing great which helps me out a lot; he makes me look good," laughs Stith. "But it's been a lot of fun to be getting matches and having the competition."
Tateishi, who was born in Seattle but grew up in Hawai'i, would not have been here with Stith this season were it not for a shoulder injury suffered in the fall of 2010 that broke the momentum his game had been building. At the ITA NW Regionals at Stanford, Tateishi had won his first two matches, including an upset of a seeded Fresno State player, before injuring his shoulder and retiring in the round of 32. That injury would require surgery and keep Tateishi out of action until this past fall.
It was immensely difficult to have seen some of his best results and then immediately be knocked out. Tateishi could have called it a career at that point, but decided he'd take the redshirt to come back and give himself a true senior season.
"The injury was frustrating," says Tateishi. "You never really go into surgery and come out as well as you'd want to. So I feel there were some setbacks from that, which was pretty unfortunate."
Like any player, Tateishi had hoped to break into the starting singles lineup this season, but UW was blessed with impressive depth and also good health this year, so Tateishi got just two starts, winning both, against Seattle U. and Eastern Washington. "Even though I didn't really make it into the starting lineup, and I didn't really feel as well as I wanted to, I have no regrets about my decision, I feel like it was the right decision to make," says the senior. "I had a great time this past season and hopefully it continues for a while."
The two have done a great job of providing veteran leadership on a relatively young UW team that has spent most of the season ranked in the Top-25 despite starting no seniors in singles. True freshmen Emmett Egger, Viktor Farkas, and Jeff Hawke have all been asked to contribute in a big way from the get-go, and redshirt freshman Nicholas Kamisar has also been one of the team's most consistent singles players. Stith and Tateishi both took it upon themselves to help the new faces adjust to college life.
"I felt we were, not obligated, but it was our responsibility to kind of look out for the freshmen, help them find their way, and they did a really good job with that," said Tateishi of the new class. Stith adds that the team chemistry has been great all season.
Both players have also stepped up and made contributions to the athletic community as a whole, as both are current representatives for men's tennis on the Washington Student-Athlete Advisory Council (WSAAC), and both have worked as Peer Advocates this year. Stith was the social media chair for WSAAC, keeping members up to date on the group's activities via Facebook and Twitter, and both have helped plan and execute volunteer work such as Coins For Kids.
The University of Washington "offers you so many opportunities," says Tateishi. "You can just go to class, and just go to practice, but if you want to take advantage of all the resources that this school has, there's just unlimited amounts of things you can do. In my later years I decided to take advantage of some of them, and I'm kicking myself for not doing it earlier."
Stith and Tateishi have each excelled in the classroom, something that has been as much a tradition as NCAA appearance under Coach Anger. Stith is a Business major with a finance focus, and last summer he interned at Universal Studios. He is hoping that the contacts there might lead to something in the entertainment world, but can also see himself "maybe working for a hedge fund." Tateishi's future plans will keep him right here. The Biochemistry major with a Chemistry minor has been admitted to physical therapy school at Washington, "so I'll be sticking around for three more years, getting my doctorate," Tateishi says.
Both players have cumulative grade point averages above a 3.35, and both have now completed their undergraduate course work, leaving them without any classes this final spring quarter. That has allowed them to really enjoy the last few weeks of their college tennis careers.
"Yeah just every day at practice I have cherished that I get to play tennis right now," says Stith. "I don't have to go to work ... yet. I'm having fun every day, and I don't have any classes left so recently I've just kind of stopped and smelled the roses."
Coming back out to the matches as a fan, and spending more time with his teammates as he continues on with his education is a big bonus for Tateishi. "I plan on being a part of Husky Tennis definitely for the next three years and hopefully for the rest of my life," he says.
It is that sense of family that both know they'll miss the most. College tennis has such an international reach that many players are on opposite sides of the world from their family and friends. That makes the bond of the small roster especially tight.
While Tateishi's family is back in the Northwest and he can go to them if need be, he knows that "A lot of the guys don't have that and the tennis team is kind of the surrogate family. And to be a part of something like that, where if they have a problem or they're struggling with something, they come to you first, that's great and I know that I'm going to miss having that community."
"I think a big thing for me was just an ability to communicate with teammates from everywhere, all over the world," says Stith, who also loved "representing something in a good, positive way.
"You're representing more than yourself; you're representing the University of Washington, which was a really cool thing for me. You had a responsibility to represent the school well. And also just to be around Matt Anger and Chris Russell has been a huge learning experience for me. I've learned so much from them. They've been like the out-of-state fathers to me."
Coach Anger turned out to be right, as the time flew by, but Stith and Tateishi both certainly made the most of it.