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Hoyas overcome adversity to become TOC Nationals regulars

By Ashley Marshall

With an enrollment of just 4,793 students, Georgetown University is the smallest of the 64 teams competing in Orlando this weekend. 

Compared with colleges such as the University of Central Florida which has almost 65,000 students, the Hoyas have a tiny student body to choose from. But club president Max Roder will be one of the first to tell you that size doesn't measure heart.

“Even though we can’t draw upon the thousands that the state schools can, we’re not short of talent,” Roder said. "We want to have a good showing for ourselves and show the other schools how we can play." 

A small campus population is just one of the hurdles the Georgetown club tennis team has been forced to overcome. It lost its courts three years ago and regularly sees the best female tennis players at the school play varsity sport instead of club tennis. Despite all of those factors, the Hoyas are back at Nationals for the third time in four years.

"We used to have eight outdoor courts on campus that the varsity team used," Roder said. "Then they got torn down our sophomore year for a new athletics facility so the only courts are four indoor courts used by the men’s and women’s varsity teams and the local area clubs. That was a big adjustment, having to practice very late at night and hold our own home tournaments off campus."

Numbers have dropped at the Georgetown program from more than 200 when the program had access to eight on-campus courts to between 35-40 members today. But for those who do practice and play regularly, a trip to Orlando is a fitting reward for their hard work and dedication throughout the year.

"Despite our small numbers, we always have more people try out than we can take," said Roder, who is in his fourth and final year playing club tennis.

He went to the National Championship as a sophomore in 2015, but Georgetown lost in the quarterfinals of sectionals to West Virginia in 2016 and failed to qualify, even though the squad included two former varsity players and a deep, talented bench. By contrast, this year, the Hoyas weren't able to take their best team to sectionals because of illnesses and other commitments, but three girls, two freshmen and a junior, helped them navigate a path to Nationals.

"It was a tale of two different years," Roder said. "One year you expect to win, but you lose early. The next year you’re just trying to scrape through and you finish second and advance. It’s huge." 

Nobody on the Georgetown club tennis team has competed at the Tennis On Campus National Championship all four years, and Roder has high hopes that Carmel, Calif., native Ellie Stork and fellow freshman Marissa Walsh of Appleton, Wis., will be the first to buck that trend.

"It's been a great experience and I would not trade it for the world," said Roder, who played with teammate Max Novak as juniors in the USTA Intermountain section. "It has been one of the things I will miss most about the college experience and I’m happy to pass it on to the new generation of Georgetown players coming through. Nobody has gone to Nationals all four years for us, so that would be pretty cool."