Tennis is an international sport, and the UW-Milwaukee women’s tennis team reflects that, sporting three players from other countries.
In her little collegiate experience for the Panthers, freshman Laurie Clark has stamped her place on the team with three runner up trophies in as many tournaments.
Clark, a native of Bolton, a town within Manchester, England, has been playing tennis for the majority of her life.
“I’ve been playing since I was about 8, and I got involved just through my school, my primary school,” Clark said. Then I started competing more regularly. I’ve just been doing it ever since.”
Other circumstances might have also played a role in getting her interested in tennis.
“When I was younger, I used to horse ride, far before tennis, but I was allergic to horses, so I had to stop. But that’s kind of how I got into tennis, I couldn’t horse ride.”
Clark said that she was lucky to have chances to play where she grew up.
“There’s not many opportunities around where I’ve played,” Clark said. “There was like a high performance center about 10 minutes away, so I was really lucky. But for people like from up north, there isn’t many opportunities, so it’s kind of hard if you’re from that area.
But I was really lucky to have the center that I did, because that’s where I played for most of my early tennis career.
Clark said that some of achievements she was proud of weren’t necessarily performance based on the court, but rather opportunities that she was given with tennis.
“I’ve played for my county every single year and I loved doing that, so it’s a real like achievement to be asked to do that,” Clark said. And also, I was a ball kid for the ATP World Tour Finals for like Djokovic (her favorite player) and Federer, and that’s like the best thing I’ve ever done. That was so good.”
Clark added that she was also able to play of the most famous courts in the world, at the All-England Club in Wimbledon.
“When I was 14, I played at Wimbledon as well, in like a Road to Wimbledon tournament. So it was kind of cool to play on those courts.”
The courts, however, were not as easy to play on as Clark had expected.
“It was hard, harder than you think. The ball doesn’t bounce,” Clark said with a laugh.
Clark look at several school in the US, but elements of UW-Milwaukee stood out to her in particular.
“This school stood out in terms of having a team that seemed to really get on with each other, and like a really close team,” Clark said.
The head coach, Maddy Soule, also played a factor in choosing UWM.
“I really like the coach, because I thought, ‘she’s younger and she’s only just graduated, she kind of gets where I’ll be coming from,’” Clark said. “And say I’m feeling nervous in a match or whatever, she’s been through that so she knows exactly how I’ll be feeling.”
The location was Clark’s initial reason for looking at Milwaukee.
“I kind of picked it more on the fact that I wanted to go somewhere with a big city, with a lot to do. And the fact that the team felt really close and welcoming, that just kind of sealed it,” Clark said.
What Clark looks forward to with the Panthers is not as much the competition, as it is connecting with her fellow teammates.
“I’m looking forward to competing in more of a team environment, because at home the tournaments were kind of like you played on your own, like a singles tournament,” Clark said. “So I’m looking forward to being part of a team, getting close relationships with people on the team, and like trying to win for their sake as well as my own.”
Clark, who had never been to the United Sates before arriving for school, said that her experiences with the team so far have been very positive, despite not knowing anyone.
“Obviously I had my family back home that was a massive impact on my support, I also had very close friends that I could always go to, so coming here not knowing anyone was hard,” Clark said.
Clark would begin her collegiate career with the Panthers in an invitational tournament in early September in Des Moines, Iowa.
“It was really good, like it was really good having a team environment. So it terms of matches, I lost the first set (in Iowa) because I was so nervous, because it was my first college experience,” Clark said. “Having a team there to cheer you on is a massive morale booster.”
The coaching relationship was a different experience for Clark as well.
“The coaches could come on court as well, so I’ve never experienced that before. They were kind of telling me how to overcome the different opponents, because some had different styles of play. So I found that really helpful, but yeah, I was really nervous. But I did well. I played well, so I’m happy with how it went.”
Clark went on to finish runner-up in the Drake Invite in Iowa, as well as runner-up in Gopher Invite in Minnesota, defeating the top seed along the way. Both tournaments had several flights, with Drake competing in a 16 player bracket, while Minnesota sported 32 player draws.
Clark also finished runner-up at the UIC invitational in Chicago to 8 player brackets.
In her three tournaments as a Panther, she has amassed a 8-3 match record, including one withdrawal from teammate Alysa Straub in Iowa.
In addition to on-court aspirations, Clark also has big ambitions academically.
“I want to study psychology. I love psychology, because I’d like to be a clinical psychologist someday, which is really hard to get into, but I just love psychology,” Clark said.
Along with her talented tennis, Clark also brings a bright personality to the team.
“I think I’m quite funny,” Clark said. “I a very bubbly person. I make everyone laugh a lot, which is good. “
Clark said she is excited to simply continue playing tennis.
“I’m looking forward to the spring season with all the conference matches and traveling around playing different schools.”