ORLANDO, Fla. -- Texas A&M alum Michael Karka graduated with a masters in bio-medical engineering and a profound love for club tennis.
It’s been more than a decade since Karka played his last Tennis On Campus National Championship match, which saw the Aggies’ dynasty pick up a fifth title in six years, but the memories and friendships he formed then are still just as strong today.
Karka turned to club tennis after deciding he couldn’t play varsity tennis and dedicate himself to studying for his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. The thought of having to give up tennis completely left him with a lump in his throat
“It was heartbreaking,” said Karka, who played junior tennis in high school and was ranked inside the Top 100 nationally and Top 10 in Texas.
“Having to give that up was very tough, but having Tennis On Campus there was perfect and exactly what I needed when I needed it. It gave me an opportunity to feel like I was playing varsity tennis without playing varsity tennis.”
Karka played varsity tennis in 2001 as a freshman but made the switch to club tennis in 2002, leading the Aggies to a National Championship. Texas A&M feel in the final to Florida in 2003, but Karka’s squad returned to the top of the pyramid the following year.
The 2003 title was the first of four consecutive for the Aggies and Karka, who returned to College Station for three years of grad school and his third, fourth and fifth TOC crowns
Karka, now 36, lives in Lake Nona, Fla., a short ride from the USTA National Campus which is hosting the 2018 Tennis On Campus National Championship for the second time. He still follows the Aggies’ progress throughout the season, and when he saw they qualified for nationals, he made sure to set aside time to cheer for his alma mater.
“It’s great to see Aggies enjoying the same competition that I was able to play, and it’s great that they’re still being able to focus on their education and play a sport that they will be able to play for the rest of their lives,” Karka said.
“Back when I was a college student, I didn’t realize how impactful it was. Until you step away and you have a family and start your life, you don’t realize how much those memories from college affect you.”
Some of Karka’s best friends came via club tennis at Texas A&M, including Esteban Garza and twin brothers Odion and Omon Dibua, whom he met playing intramural tennis. He recently attended Odion’s wedding and still counts some of his club tennis teammates among his closest friends today.
It was the team aspect of team tennis that hooked Karka on the sport, and today he plays in several USTA League events, including a 4.5 mixed doubles league in Sarasota that won the national title last year.
“I would say to give Tennis On Campus a try,” Karka said. “It’s not just about tennis, there’s a social aspect to it, too. You get to be a part of a family in your college. I don’t really care about the individual stuff, I care about the team, that’s what drew me to club tennis. It’s about lifting each other up and rooting for each other. It’s about the energy and fist pumping and then, win or lose, going out spending time with your teammates.
“This was one of the best memories in college for me and I want to thank [director of national sports programs for NIRSA] Val [McCutchan] for what she did for me for those six years and for so many other people over the past 18 years.
“It wasn’t until after college that I realized what I had. I would tell everyone to cherish these moments playing Tennis On Campus because everybody is going to go their own way and you’ll want to have these memories forever.”