By Shannon Ramsey, a junior team captain on the St. Mary's College of Maryland women's tennis team
"Division III athletes play for nothing more than the love of their sport". Reflecting on my collegiate athletic career thus far, this quote really resonates with me. When I stumbled upon it, I began thinking about my own experiences and what exactly it means to be a DIII athlete. When I arrived at St. Mary's my sophomore year, I knew that my experience would be much different than the one that I had at my previous college. My freshman year I attended Belmont Abbey College, a small, private DII school outside of Charlotte, N.C., where I played tennis. While I enjoyed my time playing for the Abbey, I am very satisfied with my decision to attend St. Mary's. Ever since I visited my sister on campus in 2008, I knew that I wanted to attend St. Mary's and be a part of the tennis program. My sister set the bar high and achieved a lot during her time at St. Mary's which has motivated me to work hard to fulfill my potential. Aside from my mom and dad, I would consider my brother and sister to be my role models because while they have many accomplishments, they're still two of the nicest, most grounded people I know. They serve has a reminder to me the importance of working hard and remaining humble which are qualities that serve one well in college, especially a student-athlete. St. Mary's does not have a shortage of high achievers, the standards are very high but that's what makes the experience so unique particularly for student-athletes. We are being pushed hard both on the court and in the classroom. As student-athletes, we quickly learn the art of time management as well as sacrifice. I don't see sacrifice has a negative thing though; I've matured and grown has a person through making sacrifices. If there's one notable characteristic that I've noticed the student-athletes have here is heart. You can't practice or train for having heart and you certainly can't fake it. You either have it or don't, and the athletes I've met here definitely have heart. Regardless of your position or place on the roster, if you have heart, you will be successful.
I honestly can't remember a time when I wasn't involved in tennis. I started playing tennis at a young age; my father introduced me and my siblings to the sport at Pointer Ridge Swim & Racquet Club, in Bowie, Md. I became enamored with the game and while I continued to play other sports, tennis was always what I was most drawn to. Growing up, I was very shy and quiet; I didn't have much confidence in the classroom or in other sports even though I was very athletic. The tennis court is where I started to gain confidence and belief that I could be something great if I worked hard enough. Tennis has given me so many opportunities and has challenged me to get out of my comfort zone. Due to my more introverted personality growing up, I tended to be more passive and laid back and thus shied away from any kind of leadership roles. It wasn't until high school when I was named captain of my tennis team that I began to embrace more leadership roles and started to step up has a student-athlete. Becoming the head coach at Pointer Ridge Swim & Racquet Club, which is where I first learned to play, taught me what it means to have a voice and to be a responsible leader. I gained confidence through these positions which has given me confidence that I can be successful in other areas of my life. This year being co-captain of the team with Lauren Rost has been a huge privilege, I love working with Lauren because of her dedication and enthusiasm on and off the court. The same can be said for all of my teammates, we are all super supportive of one another. As too good to be true as this may all sound, we truly are a close-knit family and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Continuing on the topic of team unity, I remember that before I headed off to college one of my friends told me a benefit of being a student-athlete is that you come into school with a built-in group of friends. My friend was absolutely right. Being a transfer student wasn't an easy transition at first, but I quickly became close with my teammates and found that we all clicked really well together. Becoming good friends with my teammates so quickly was confirmation that I had made the right decision to transfer. St. Mary's was where I was meant to be and these are the people I am meant to practice and compete with for the next few years. I used to run cross country in high school and my coach would always say "We are one team, one family". My cross country team was extremely close, and it was really gratifying knowing that I could rely on my teammates for anything. The same can be said for my current teammates. I consider my teammates my brothers and sisters. I can't begin to explain how thankful I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. No matter how long or draining of a day I have, I look forward to coming to practice knowing that I'll be spending the next two hours with an awesome group of people. I also know that no matter how difficult our conditioning or practice may be, I will still spend the majority of practice laughing or trying (and usually failing) to repress my laughter. On top of this, I am fortunate to be coached by two devoted and diligent coaches, Greg Shedd and Tyler Robinson, who have contributed in creating this positive atmosphere for the tennis team.
As much as I love playing tennis and winning matches, I know that 10 years from now the things that I am going to remember the most from my time here are not the wins or losses but rather the memories I've made with my teammates. I've shared some really neat experiences with my team such has our Spring Break trip to Hilton Head, S.C. There's nothing quite like a 12-hour road trip to S.C. in a minivan, even if it's a nice one, with all your teammates. I've had some highs and lows in my college career; even after my toughest losses, knowing that I still have my team behind me makes it all worth it and motivates me to work that much harder for my next match. While tennis is seen has more of an individual sport, the reality is that I am playing and winning for my team, not just for myself. In tennis it can come down to one match that can decide which team wins as a whole. You may be out there alone, unless you're playing doubles, of course, you're still playing for your team and I certainly don't want to let them down.
Unfortunately, I know that my time has a student-athlete will come to an end. I won't be at St. Mary's forever and I won't be playing tennis competitively forever. While I always hope to remain involved in the sport, I know it's not in the cards for me to be a professional tennis player. But that doesn't mean I still can't have an impact on the sport and remain involved through coaching, volunteering, and traveling. I know there is more to life than tennis and after I graduate, I have many things outside of the sport that I would like to pursue. After I graduate in 2016, my hope is to complete the MAT program here and become an elementary/special education teacher. I'd love to join the Peace Corps shortly afterward and teach abroad as well. While teaching, I would also like to coach high school tennis. This way, I can work with kids who are passionate about the sport and maybe inspire some to play college tennis (at St. Mary's, of course). I'd like to work with individuals who normally wouldn't have the opportunity to play tennis; the sport should be accessible to anyone who wishes to try it. I also desire to get back into running competitively again. I hope to follow in my Uncle Marks' footsteps and run marathons, eventually completing a triathlon. I find myself most content when working with kids so between teaching and coaching, I know that I will have found my purpose and will be fulfilled.
I already know that playing my last tennis match has a Seahawk will be incredibly difficult. These past two years, the tennis program has had a profound impact on my life and has given me friendships, memories, and skills that I will carry with me long after I receive my diploma. While all good things come to an end, I know that when I finish my time at St. Mary's I will be prepared to pursue my new endeavors and work towards my new goals. Being a student-athlete at St. Mary's has given me more than I could have ever asked for and I will forever be grateful for those who have supported and guided me to where I am today. I'm looking forward to one more year of playing college tennis and to giving back what tennis has given me.
Twitter: @smcseahawks, @NCAADIII, #SeahawkAthletics, #d3week, #whyd3