Columbus East’s four varsity senior girls tennis players are slated to be recognized at tonight’s Bartholomew County School Corporation board meeting, but until last week, there was one small problem.
The Olympians were scheduled to play Jennings County in tennis tonight.
Lauren Champion, Amanda Hashimoto, Risa Mineno and Amanda Sun were excited about the prospect of attending the meeting with the rest of the top 10 seniors from East and Columbus North, but they didn’t want to let their teammates down by missing the match. So they didn’t tell coach Cheryl McGee about the meeting and hoped they could hurry there after the match.
When McGee finally got wind of the emerging conflict, she told athletics director Bob Gaddis, who talked the Panthers into moving the match to Friday.
The Olympians beat Jennings 5-0 on a cold, blustery day, and tonight, they can attend the meeting with the other top-notch students.
“There was no way they were going to make that school board meeting with playing a match, and they hadn’t said anything to me,” McGee said.
“I think they didn’t want to let the team down. But I went to the athletic director, and he said ‘Absolutely. They’ve earned that right, and they deserve to be there,’ so he got it arranged to move it.”
It was a benevolent gesture to the quartet of players who have embraced the term “student-athlete” throughout their time at East. They make up nearly half of the school’s top 10 seniors with GPAs well above 4.0.
“It’s wonderful to have those four girls to be in the top 10,” McGee said. “It’s an amazing feat to accomplish for anyone, let alone to have four. I know I never have to worry about checking on grades to see if I have any ineligible players.”
“I didn’t really think of it as such a big deal until our coach mentioned that it was something we should be proud of,” said Sun, who missed Friday’s match while visiting the University of Chicago. “Everybody who I know that plays tennis is really smart and applies themselves well and they care about their grades a lot, so it wasn’t surprising.”
Being a top student while competing in a sport sometimes means taking homework along on long bus trips.
“When we have late nights with matches away, we can use our resources and use our time wisely during the day,” Mineno said.
“Tennis is time consuming, so we have to use our resources wisely,” Hashimoto said. “It’s nice that we’re all on the team because we all basically have the same homework, and we can all work on it while we have tennis.”
The players have continued to take Advanced Placement courses, even into their final semester of high school.
“All four of them, I’m going to nominate for Academic All-State, and I was just amazed by the courses that they take and that they’re taking their last semester, which they wouldn’t have to do,” McGee said. “They’ve chosen to take all AP all the way through, which is the toughest of the tough.”
McGee said the players’ intelligence helps them on the tennis court.
“You have to be able to think intelligently,” McGee said. “You have to be able to think ahead, and you have to be able to maintain control and you have to be organized and responsible. Even your moves you make, you have to be organized with your thoughts.”
Mineno plays No. 3 singles for the Olympians. Champion plays No. 1 doubles, while Hashimoto and Sun team together at No. 2 doubles.
“Sometimes, I feel like I over-analyze my shots because I think too much about placement and stuff,” Mineno said. “But then other times, it’s an advantage.”
“You have to be smart when you’re playing,” Champion said. “You have to think about what the other players are doing that you can take advantage of. You have to be able to think fast.”
Sun is back playing tennis this spring after sitting out last season.
“I didn’t really know how it would go after taking a whole season off,” Sun said. “I was really skeptical about that, but I feel good. Our team is doing really well this year.”
East is 5-3 going into Thursday’s match at Greenwood. One of the Olympians’ wins was a 5-0 shutout of longtime nemesis Columbus North, which figures to be the chief competition in the East Sectional.
“It will be fun to see how far we do get to go our senior year,” Champion said. “We definitely want to win sectional this year.”
Hashimoto said the four players have been friends since being part of Academic Challenge at Southside Elementary as fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. They’ll go their separate ways this fall when Champion heads to Purdue; Hashimoto to Butler; Mineno to Nagoya University in her native Japan and Sun to either Chicago, Indiana University or Purdue.
“All four of us, we’ve pretty much been inseparable, and I think it’s pretty amazing that we’re all still friends,” Hashimoto said.
“I think it’s inspiring to the other players on the team to have girls that are academically strong, play sports and are talented at many other things,” McGee said. “These girls are humble in what they do, but I think it’s inspiring to the other girls on the team to say ‘Wow. Look at them.’ When they get a little upset or down and they don’t have time to get this done, they think ‘Here’s a group of girls that can and do,’ so I think it’s inspiring to their teammates.”