Off the court, she’s kind, generous, friendly, and a little soft-spoken. Racquet in hand, she’s “aggressive,” “relentless,” “forceful,” and “strategic.” For Nicole Pontee ’10, those characteristics are the winning combination that earned her accolades this year, from being named Vassar’s outstanding Female Senior Athlete of the Year to becoming the college’s first three-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American.
A pre-med student majoring in English with a correlate in chemistry, Pontee was sold on Vassar as soon as she arrived on campus for a visit. She remembers being impressed with the campus, describing the atmosphere as welcoming and nurturing. After completing her four-year program, she says, “I liked the small classroom settings and the personal attention you get from the professors. A lot of my professors came to my matches. You don’t get that at a lot of schools.”
Head women’s tennis coach Kathy Campbell, who was named the Liberty League’s 2009-10 Coach of the Year, appreciates the interconnectedness of athletics and academics at Vassar. “It really contributes to the positive team dynamic. You have a group of individuals who have a really strong work ethic, and they’re extremely dedicated to their sport and to their studies. They are all very high-achieving students playing for a Division III team, and that becomes a bond between them.”
If this year’s successes are any indication, it’s a win-win-and-win-again situation. “We’ve had a phenomenal year,” says Campbell. “The players work really hard. They take a lot of pride in what they do. They put their heart and soul into the game, and they are really there for each other, on and off the court.” With Pontee ranking 8th nationally and 5th regionally, the team on the whole moved up five spots to number 17 out of 388 Division III women’s tennis teams.
Vassar’s men’s tennis team also celebrated a sensational season, earning themselves a national ranking of 22 and proving that a determined outlook can make all the difference. “We definitely raised our level of play over the past year,” says Ki Kroll, the team’s head coach, who was also honored by the Liberty League this year with the men’s Coach of the Year award. “Now, we are competitive with the top teams, and we’re starting to believe we can play with those teams. That’s been a real challenge, but we’ve built ourselves up to where we really can compete with them.”
The team’s star player was Michael Mattelson ’10, an economics major who double-minored in physics and astronomy. Mattleson, who is ranked 16th nationally and number two in the Northeast, has seen big changes on the team since his arrival at Vassar. “When I got here, the team didn’t have the most winning attitude,” he says. “It’s been fun because we’ve all been growing together. We’ve made a concerted effort to really believe in ourselves and each other, and also to believe that our hard work and dedication is going to lead us to success and it has.”
Kroll gives credit to Mattelson for many of the positive changes he has seen in the team over the past few years. “He’s our number one player this year, and his leadership has helped a lot to pull the team together.”
The first of Vassar’s men’s tennis players to win a match in the NCAA championships, Mattelson admits to having a hard month or two of adjustment when he first came to Vassar. Being on a team helped ease his transition, but he also found solace in his coursework, particularly a German Studies class called “Vampires, Lunatics, and Cyborgs: Exploring the Uncanny Recesses of the Romantic Consciousness.” He says that having to manage practice and a full class schedule helped him learn to prioritize and organize his time better, and made him more responsible and effective. Now that he’s graduated, Mattelson hopes to put those leadership skills to use in a coaching career perhaps even on a college campus.
“There’s a common bond among our student-athletes of loving the game and having passion for it, and of wanting to have a quality college experience,” says Campbell. At Vassar, it looks like you can have it both ways.