NETHERLANDS – It did not take long for everyone at the DeWitt Tennis Center to realize that Sullivan Patel would be special.
Hope College freshman has impressed coaches and teammates since virtually the first day she stepped on the field. She continues to pick up victories and various other accolades up through her first spring season with Flying Dutch, and no one in the program is really shocked by that. Austin Hunt, the team’s freshman head coach, said he noticed almost immediately during the team’s trial period during the first three training sessions of the fall that she would be a big part of the team.
“It was pretty much an immediate thing, the first day of that trial week,” Hunt said. “I set her up against [the older players] and she kept to herself, started winning most of her matches within our team really fast, that was when we noticed we had something here. ”
She appeared to be a star just a few days into her college career, and so far it looks like she’s one. But it did not happen as fast as people had originally thought. During the fall season, she understandably had some nerves. She played well, but both Hunt and Patel realized she had some things to improve.
In high school tennis, you can get away with just keeping the ball in play, just getting it back over the net to force a mistake from your opponent, but that’s not the case at the college level. Patel had to do more than just survive his competition on the other side of the field.
For most players, this kind of adjustment period will usually take up their entire first-year campaign. However, not Patel. She conquered the learning curve in seemingly record time and has already taken her game from great to almost elite in just a few months she has been on campus.
“It’s very rare when you pair how she’s worked on her own and plus everything the coaching staff has thrown at her, she takes it and wants to try it and not fight you on it,” Hunt said. “I think she’s basically brewing the perfect storm to keep growing.”
She has already reached number two singles spot on the team and has achieved a spot alongside senior Sydney Jackson in number one double spot. Hearing that is even more impressive when you consider that the Birmingham native had never played competitive doubles before arriving in the Netherlands.
But that hardly happened. Patel was recruited by Flying Dutch when Bob Cawood was still head coach. he stopped last season to spend more time with his family. But with a new coach in the fight in Hunt, it’s not uncommon for recruits looking for a new place to play now that the coach they’ve built a relationship with is gone.
But Patel already had some internal knowledge about Hunt. He had previously been an assistant at Grand Valley State, where one of the freshman’s friends, Amanda Herdozia, taught under him. The insight that Herdozia gave Patel was instrumental in making her see through playing in blue and orange.
“She told me great things about him and how he is such an amazing coach and how good he is at bringing together the teammates and motivating them to win,” Patel said. “I was still nervous about getting in because I had never met him before, but it helped ease my nerves a lot.”
Her steadfast commitment to Hope has already paid off for her, earning the MIAA Tennis Player of the Week last month, earning a victory over a nationally ranked opponent during the team’s spring break trip to Florida, and continuing to cruise in MIAA games.
However, she does not get entangled in the hype or the acknowledgments. She knows she has all the potential in the world and she wants to be sure she will not waste it. So instead of creating magnificent goals, she’s just focused on doing little things every single day to get a little bit better, which she hopes will lead to a team MIAA title.
“I do not have super specific goals, I just want to improve as a player, and as a teammate, of course, it is first and foremost to support the rest of the team,” said Patel. “We want to win the conference, we’ve done it before and I think we can do it again.”
—Contact Assistant Sports Editor Will Kennedy at Will.Kennedy@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitterand Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.