By Tyler Sakalys-Moore '22
Academics always came first for first-year Kalamazoo College student Sophie Zhuang, so the thought of playing college tennis never initially crossed her mind. Because of this, she never felt the need to consider athletics in her college search, so she only looked at larger schools such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
The only reason she considered Kalamazoo College in the first place was that her parents believed that it might be a good fit for her. After looking into it a bit, she realized that Kalamazoo College was a smaller school, and she might actually have the ability to look at the tennis team as an option. Even though she was still on the fence, she decided to visit.
On her visit, she was caught completely off guard. She loved it. Sophie was already drawn to the idea of playing tennis, but what surprised her was the level of commitment to academics on the team. Thinking of going into pre-med, the balance of academics and athletics was a concern for her, but she was thrilled to hear that a large number of players on the team were also pre-med focused and were more than capable of handling the workload.
In looking back on her view of Division III athletes, she has already noticed a significant change in how she sees it all. Going into her season, she wasn't sure what to expect in terms of competition.
Her first few matches came up, and she was facing off against athletes from nationally-ranked teams. She quickly realized the level of seriousness that still comes with Division III sports.
"I have a lot more respect for DIII athletes now," Sophie said.
Living in the dorms right around the athletic facilities, she began to notice the grind student-athletes are faced with; whether that be waking up for early morning lift or going straight from class to practice, there's a level of commitment that she didn't notice before.
Along with this, Sophie found that in playing a Division III sport, there's a level of enjoyment and willingness to make sacrifices for your team that you might not see as much in the other two Divisions. With the other divisions, additional help is available to the athletes, such as athletic scholarships, but you don't get that with Division III.
"I feel like DIII athletes really need to enjoy their sport. You can't play it just for the material benefits."
In her short time at Kalamazoo College, Sophie has found the ability to not only perform in tennis at a high level, but she has also found that she is still able to put academics first, just as she intended to do when she first began looking for the school of her future.