In their first collegiate tournaments freshmen Kate Ketels, Haruna Tsuruta and Katie Day proved they are ready for the big stage of college tennis. Ketels and Tsuruta walked away from the SMU Invite in Dallas Oct. 9 as bracket winners while Day made it to the championship of her consolation bracket. It was a strong first showing for the freshmen of the women’s tennis team, who have worked hard to earn their place on the team.
“In a short period of time Kate, Haruna and Katie are already integral pieces of the team,” head coach D.J. Gurule said. “It is going to be really exciting to see these three ladies develop.”
Where they come from
Each player was introduced to tennis at an early age and fell in love with the sport. Ketels comes to Gonzaga from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she played many sports in addition to tennis and developed the desire to become a college athlete at 8 years old. Day grew up in Portland, Oregon, and started playing tennis at 5 years old, as many of her family members grew up playing tennis. Tsuruta comes from Fukouka, Japan, where she first started playing tennis with her father after discovering a tennis club next to his gym.
Before coming to GU, Haruna lived in California for five years, where she became accustomed to life in the U.S.
“I couldn’t speak any English at all when I first got here, so it was a tough adjustment,” Tsuruta said.
Now at GU, Tsuruta feels welcome and well-adjusted.
When it came time to discovering where they would play college tennis, it didn’t take long for Ketels and Day to choose GU.
“Within five seconds of being here, I knew Gonzaga was exactly where I wanted to be,” Ketels said.
Day’s high school coaches pushed her to check out Gonzaga, but she wasn’t sure at first. Much like Ketels, Day’s hesitations were put to rest when she stepped on campus.
Adjusting to college
The transition to the college game hasn’t been easy for the freshmen, but the constant support from their teammates is making their GU experience extremely positive so far.
“We can already see Haruna, Kate and Katie getting stronger and faster on the court,” Gurule said. “I think the workload is a little more than they are used to, but they have done an incredible job of adjusting to the rigors of being a student-athlete.”
Ketels, Tsuruta, and Day are challenged to keep up with the faster pace of college tennis and adjust to a busy schedule. An average day for the freshmen starts early with weights at 6:30 a.m. and daily practice. Despite the lack of free time, the trio feel they are adjusting well and look to their teammates for easing their transition.
Captain Alex Bourguignon has shown a willingness to help the freshmen find their place with her leadership ability.
“Alex is an outstanding, organized leader and she is always someone you can go to if you need help,” Day said.
Another key factor aiding in the freshmen’s transition is the closeness in age of the team. With four sophomores and one junior, the three freshmen feel they can relate well to their teammates.
“We are like a family,” Day said. “They push us a lot to become better players on and off the court, which helps us become closer as a team too.”
When searching for motivation and inspiration, the trio share a common source: family. They all share a desire to make their family proud and raved about the level of impact their parents had.
“They supported me and got me here, so I want to make them proud playing tennis and doing well in school,” Ketels said.
Though their families may be far away, the freshmen know they have moral support from them, making sure they are keeping up with the challenges of being a student-athlete. It is a foundation that links the three of them.
This shared motivation helps create a strong relationship among the freshmen outside of practice. They have classes together, do homework together, eat meals together and study together. They are all in the same boat, tackling a new routine with each other’s encouragement.
“We all have such different personalities, but we balance each other out,” Day said.
Strong support, a love to push each other, and a desire to help each other become better people are all themes of the freshmen’s great relationship.
To be a successful college athlete, the freshmen have had to learn quickly. Lucky for them, they are in the right environment to succeed with a team centered on development. In their first couple of months at GU, the trio have learned many lessons they hope will help them continue to improve and make their mark on the team.
“I’ve learned to take things day-by-day,” Day said. “Some days will be hard and some days will be better than others. It’s important to be positive and enjoy every moment.”
“Growing up, tennis has always been an individual sport, but now it’s not about how I’m doing, it’s about how my team is doing,” Ketels said. “We are all in this together and we are not alone.”
For coach Gurule, he knows he’s got a special group of young players who are only beginning to write their GU legacies.
“All three players are extremely coachable and they are progressing with their development plans,” he said. “I cannot be happier with their effort and commitment to the team.”