In an individual sport, two consummate team players leave Chicago having aided a team resurrection.
Fourth-years Jacob Reckess (13-5, 10-5 doubles) and Christine Kim (12-6, 7-10 doubles) earned high praise for their efforts this season in helping push men's and women's tennis to winning records. Reckess (career 23-21, 16-22 doubles) repeatedly found himself fighting for the clinching points for the men (18-10), grabbing wins with the match on the line against Coe, Wisconsin-Whitewater, and Wash U. Without his accomplishments in the clutch, the men would likely have fallen short of their third-place conference finish and certainly would have missed their first-ever NCAA tourney appearance.
Kim, who went 23-13 and 18-18 in doubles matches for her career came back after dropping the first set in her match against Southwestern to win in three, providing a critical spark in the win that started a nine-match winning streak for the women (13-8).
"We realized after talking as a team that we were accountable to each other as teammates to win our individual matches, which had a huge impact on winning that match," Kim said.
Despite these achievements, team head coach Marty Perry was just as quick to praise what they did in practice as in competition.
"Christine and Jacob brought a lot to us both on and off the court. They were valuable presences in practice, very helpful with the younger players," Perry said. "Both of them were outstanding teammates and tremendous competitors. They will be missed greatly next year."
It seems almost fitting that two players who have given so much to the program feel that they have personally received great returns on their investment of time and energy in Chicago tennis.
"I have never been part of such a great team atmosphere, and I think one reason it was great was because everyone was so different. We all had different interests and friends outside of tennis, yet we all got along so well. I always looked forward to spending time with these girls," Kim said. "I just feel lucky to be part of a team that has done so much and still has so much potential."
"When we beat Wash U, we realized that all the hard work we had put into the season and into the team had paid off. It was the greatest feeling, knowing that one performance from one player couldn't have done it, that it was all of us," Reckess said. "We worked with each other each other for so long, trying to produce something worthwhile. On and off the court, I have so many incredible memories. It was one of the best experiences of my life, playing on this team."
Both fourth-years had obstacles to overcome over the course of their time as Maroons. Kim did not begin competing until her third year, denying her two seasons of valuable experience. Despite this, her unflappable consistency carried her to victory after victory and earned her the captainship of the team after just one year.
"She's a machine. Christine just gets it done. No matter who she's playing, she goes out and takes care of her court, week in and week out," Perry said.
By contrast, Reckess was a four-year starter for the team, playing first singles his first two years. However, he yielded the top spot to second-year Vivek Venkataraman last year, and played at fifth singles this year. Beyond this, throughout his career Reckess faced the challenge of having to balance his beliefs and his game. An observant Jew, the team's captain would not play on Shabbat. Unfortunately, in college tennis, matches are typically held on Saturdays, costing him repeated opportunities to play over the years.
"That was the hardest thing in the world. You feel like you're letting the team down when you don't go out and play," Reckess said. "But I knew I would want them to stick by their principles, so I stuck by mine. I considered it a test in life to see how strong I could be."
He credited the team's coaching staff for their cooperation in helping him to handle his situation. Coaches took such steps as waiting with Reckess at a hotel until stars appeared in the sky for Saturday evening matches, and then immediately driving him to the venue.
"The athletic department and the coaches were great, and deserve a lot of recognition for that. They went to great lengths to help me get to matches when the team traveled on Saturdays. I wasn't planning on playing tennis in college when I got here, because I didn't think it was possible. They made it possible, and the friendships and the memories I've made over my years with tennis are thanks to them," Reckess said.
The pair got past their respective obstacles, and proved better players for it. Both of them picked up their game in their respective final seasons as the program reached new heights under Perry.
"I definitely learned a lot and grew as a player within my time here," Kim said, "and there was no way I could have learned so much without Coach Perry and Assistant Coach Mahone. They set up an incredible program, improved our skills through coaching, and built high team morale."
"I'm a much more mature player now. Four years of college will do that to you. Four years of life will do that to you," Reckess said. "So much of it will come down to how much work and heart you put into it. I hope that I demonstrated to the team that hard work can pay off. Even when you think practicing is pointless, you can come through it a better player.
"I loved the feeling of putting on a U of C uniform, of not just playing for myself," he said. "That made my desire to perform so much greater."
The two will be taking their memories in different directions next year. Kim will be remaining in Chicago, while Reckess will be hitting the road as traveling secretary for the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.
"I'm going to see the country, and then decide where to go from there," Reckess said.