TENNIS: Three graduating Asian American athletes reflect
The News spoke to three Yalies on the men’s and women’s tennis teams who helped their teams to greatness while developing themselves personally.
Courtesy of Cody Lin
This academic year, graduating Asian American athletes have competed at the highest levels.
Despite facing the stresses of academics and athletics in combination with the uncertainties of the pandemic, several Asian American Bulldogs are closing out their athletic careers with notable successes. Cody Lin ’22, the sole senior in men’s tennis, discussed the trajectory of his athletic career while women’s tennis players Jessie Gong ’22 and Kathy Wang ’22 spoke on the significance of a supportive team atmosphere in trying times.
“Over the pandemic, there was sort of a rise of Asian American hate crimes and our team has a lot of AAPI representation,” Wang said. “It was really a great space to talk about how we were feeling, stresses we were under, and share our emotions and have a very receptive audience [of] people who understood what we were going through.”
Beginning the 2021-22 season, Lin was the sole player on a team of six underclassmen who had played an Ivy match. He described this season as both the most challenging and rewarding.
Lin matriculated in 2017 but was unable to play due to an injury. Regardless, he received the Stuart D. Ludlum Jr. ’62 Memorial Award as a first-year with teammate Nathan Brown ’19 during the men’s tennis team’s annual banquet. The award is bestowed upon those “who [exhibit] the qualities of enthusiasm, perseverance and team spirit.” Through physical therapy and team support, Lin returned to play during the 2018-19 season and won nine matches in singles competition. As a junior, Lin stood out among the team with a 14–6 record and was awarded the George A. Phelps Memorial Award for being the most improved player.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve gotten to see and also had a part in how our team culture has changed through the years,” Lin said. “There have been shifts in mindset, shifts in the way we’ve done things. This year, in particular, I’ve seen the effects of that already.”
Lin describes changes to the team as including the turnover of staff, citing the fact that he has experienced five coaches during his time at Yale with the entry of a new head coach and the departure of several assistant coaches. Other factors include the competitive consequences of the pandemic, which have encouraged him to step up as a leader.
Lin emphasized the presence of Asian American athletes on campus. He said that despite the lack of a formal community, he found the success of other Asian American athletes with similar backgrounds inspiring.
“It really hasn’t felt like I’ve been in the minority,” Lin said. “Even though tennis historically has not been the most diverse sport due to both its nature as a ‘country club sport’ and the high costs associated with equipment, facilities, etc. I think it’s been moving in the right direction for a while now in terms of diversity, especially for Asian Americans like myself.”
Gong matriculated in the fall of 2018 and began her first season with 18 wins in both singles and doubles. Her impressive win record led to her being named Ivy League Second Team in doubles with Samantha Martinelli ’21 and ITA Scholar-Athlete for that competitive season. During her sophomore year, Martinelli and Gong made history by becoming the first Bulldogs to be named All-American in tennis and by becoming the first Ivy League women to win the ITA All-American title.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her sophomore year of play was cut short and the Ivy League did not participate in competition during her junior year. Gong describes the squad’s AAPI representation as meaningful during times when AAPI hate was increasing during the pandemic.
“It’s also nice that our coaches give us space to discuss that,” Gong said. “Our coaches are not AAPI so it’s just seeing people in our close group to make an effort to also understand or educate themselves is helpful.”
Gong also noted “emails of support” from the Asian American Cultural Center and events between the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the cultural house as “efforts from the institution” to develop a community amongst Asian athletes.
Returning to competition, Gong described the experience of having to recall team traditions for Ivy League season, which she had only competed in once before, as an instance where she had to step up. On Sunday, Gong won both of her matches against Harvard during her last day of regular season collegiate play and helped the Bulldogs clinch second in the Ivy League.
Wang also matriculated during the fall of 2018. She began her first season by earning 16 wins in both singles and doubles, along with ITA Scholar-Athlete. As a sophomore, Wang earned 10 wins in singles before the competition was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gong spoke highly of Wang’s accomplishments in their first year while Wang praised Gong’s recent performance against Princeton.
Wang described this Ivy season as significant for the seniors with every match carrying meaning. On Sunday, she and her partner Caroline Dunleavy ’22 clinched the doubles competition against Harvard by winning 6–3.
Wang is a member of Yale Bulldogs for Change, a group dedicated to improving the varsity athletic experience for people of color, along with teammate Chelsea Kung ’23. She described talks within the tennis team on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion as positive spaces for discussion. Gong echoed Wang’s sentiments by citing the team’s discussion of AAPI topics. Overall, Wang described the tennis team as working to foster a positive environment for athletes, especially through the pandemic.
“Athletics is very easy to just try and have the mindset to forget all on court and just play,” Wang said. “But sometimes it’s best to talk about it and create an open space for discussion.”
The women’s tennis Ivy League season concluded on Sunday.