No more growing pains

    Senior captains Paige Kuepers and Colleen McCullough continue to develop into positive leaders for the Blugolds

    More stories from John Mattison


    Photo by Kendall Ruchti

    seniors Paige Kuepers and Colleen McCullough have grown into their leadership role extremely well as the Blugolds have started their season 4-1

    Seniors Paige Kuepers and Colleen McCullough said they can still remember what it was like to step on the court for the first time as a Blugold athlete. Now four years later, they have become senior captains on a team that has started the year 5-1.

    Women’s tennis head coach Tom Gillman has been coaching Kuepers and McCullough all four years. Over his time coaching them, he said he has seen them grow significantly on and off the court.

    “I’ve seen a lot of growth and improvement in how Paige and Colleen react to different situations. It has been a journey for them to manage their emotions on the court, and I am proud of how far they’ve come,” Gillman said.

    Growing into leaders has taught both Kuepers and McCullough valuable tennis and life lessons they said. Along with this, they said having strong mental attitudes has been a big part of the team’s success early on.

    “Not allowing what you can’t do to interfere with what you can do is something we strive for as a team,” McCullough stated.

    Being the only seniors on a team filled with a majority of underclassmen is a new role Paige and Colleen have had to get used to, they said. However, that doesn’t inhibit them from enjoying themselves, as a pre-game ritual includes Kuepers “breaking it down” in front of the team before they begin their matches.

    This year’s roster includes: four freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors. Taking on the leadership role has been a challenge that both seniors have grasped completely, Gillman said.

    According to McCullough and Kuepers, they have much more on their plates behind the scenes this year as captains as they have to act as role models towards the younger players, Gillman said.

    “Our focus this year has been to outwork our opponents. If a team is going to beat us,” Kuepers said, “they’re going to have to outwork us.”

    As captains, Kuepers and McCullough have different responsibilities. Paige is committed to the team concept. She is responsible for being the voice of the team, whether it be encouraging a teammate, settling team conflicts, or being someone team members can go to, Gillman said.

    “Paige has made every effort to be ready to play. She is extremely committed to the team and her hard work is motivating for the team,” Gillman said.

    Kuepers compared this year’s team to a family. It is a safe place that includes people you can fully trust, she said.

    In addition to Kuepers, McCullough has also stepped up and grown into her captain role this year.

    “What switched gears with me was learning how to work hard, do your best, and then forgetting the rest,” McCullough said.

    McCullough is No. 2 Singles this year and expressed how happy she is to be given an opportunity like this. Being a captain and role model is something she has been waiting for, she said.

    “Colleen is an extremely hard worker. Her background in conditioning/training has enabled our players to become better physically. She knows how to push other teammates to their full potential,” Gillman said.

    To some, playing NCAA division III tennis may seem like a restraint from exploring other options on campus. This is not the case; especially for Kuepers and McCullough. They said they have grown both as people and as players over their four years playing for Eau Claire.

    “We have learned how to become more efficient problem-solvers,” Kuepers and McCullough  said. “Playing tennis has helped us in other aspects of our lives besides just tennis.”

    “Playing tennis at the collegiate level is a privilege, and it has been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made in college,” McCullough said.

    The Blugolds continue to keep their ship sailing smoothly as they compete this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the ITA tournament at Gustavus Adolphus College.