In Play(er) of the Week, we seek to highlight Wesleyan athletes or parts of games that deserve extra attention. Sarah Youngberg ’26 is a member of the women’s tennis team who recently made it all the way to the semifinals of the ITA Cup in Rome, Georgia. Youngberg proved that she belongs with the most talented players in the country through her amazing performance. The Argus recently sat down with her to talk about her recent success and the upcoming spring season.

The Argus: When did you first start playing tennis?

Sarah Youngberg: I started playing tennis in kindergarten in an indoor gym and then never really got on the court until I was 10. So, a little longer but always loved the game. Also, I grew up in New York City right near the U.S. Open. So that sparked my interest.

A: Did you go to some of the matches when you were a kid?

SY: In the summer before kindergarten year I went, and it was the most incredible experience. Yeah, it’s a tennis paradise for sure.

A: What would you say overall, is your favorite part of playing tennis, and then maybe the most difficult part for you?

SY: My favorite part of playing tennis in college is being on a team. In juniors it’s all individual. And so coming to Wesleyan and being able to represent the name of the school as well as my teammates. Pretty cool. But also in singles. I’m the only one out there. And I’m all by myself, it’s an individual sport. So I’m fighting for myself at the same time.

A:  I know you’re from New York, but lived in Texas, so how did you learn about Wesleyan and then choose this place all the way up in the Northeast?

SY: To me, I’m a student athlete. So I needed to find the school where my interests as a student are equally represented as my interests as an athlete. And so when I was looking, I was looking a lot at Northeast schools, just because when I thought of an ideal college, it’s the New England, the fall foliage, the four seasons that I very much missed when I was living in Dallas. Coach [Mike] Fried reached out to me pretty early on in the summer of my junior year, and I was like “It’s just such a great school.” I love just the opportunity to be yourself. And that was enough here. Like some schools, you have to do a lot to fit into different categories. We can do everything you want here.

A: So far, how has your experience been as a student athlete, pursuing academics and athletics at the same time?

SY: I would say my experience has been really great. I have had a couple of professors come out to matches, which is really cool. And so the relationship between myself and my professors has been something that I never knew was possible. And so that’s been really cool. And in season, it’s definitely difficult to balance both academics and the sport. But there’s so many resources. Time that I don’t think you get from any school. That is pretty cool to use. And help with your studies.

A: Going into this season, what were your hopes for yourself and for your teammates?

SY: In the fall season, you take every opportunity to compete to the best of your ability and not really being results oriented, just focusing on being your best self, bringing electric energy, bringing high intensity, a commitment to every shot, and being a gritty tennis player. Don’t go down without a fight, dig into every point, be the ultimate competitor, just take the opportunity to compete, because we don’t get very many in the fall.

A: This is a new kind of year for the team because you guys lost a lot of seniors and grad students. I know it is still just the fall season, but how has it been taking on more of a leadership role this year?

SY: It’s so weird, because it’s two sophomores and four freshmen on the team. And so the dynamic of the team is so different. But it’s also a great restart to focus on things culturally that we can implement now, because we have so many fresh faces and we’ll get Caitlyn Ferrante ’24 back in the spring along with Renna [Mohsen-Breen] ’25. And they’ll bring that experience and more energy and excitement to be back. But it’s been cool to start to implement new things that we didn’t do, because there were so many older people before. So it’s cool to develop this new culture. And yeah, it’s a family and it always has been, but to make the caring a really big part of it is our goal. And so we get to do that, which has been awesome. And we have the coaches’ support, doing things that maybe are different. And we’ve introduced new standards on the court or off, which has been cool. And just seeing that everyone’s really engaged has made it a fun semester so far. And I love the team. And I love what the team will be when it’s brand new.

A: To pivot to the fall season, you started at the UConn Invitational, and you won all three doubles matches. How did you feel about your confidence level starting off with those wins and getting into the season? 

SY: There’s nothing better than starting at home in the fall, and we have so many great supporters who come out, and we played a good team. And that kind of fires you up a little bit. As a player you want people watching and especially myself, I do better. I’m an entertainer on the court. So I enjoy it. And I was playing with Lane Durkin ’27, and we had very good doubles chemistry, and it obviously showed. But if I execute like the controllables the best way, that’s good enough for me to build confidence. I don’t always need a win.

A: I mean, speaking of wins, at the ITA regionals, you came out pretty hot and got all the way to the semifinals. And then you took on the number one seed. Do you remember that match and being a set down? 

SY: So that was my quarterfinal match in ITAs And I just remember like the girls and guys team being on the sideline. And I had four set points in the first set. And she outplayed me on three of the four and then I double faulted the last one. And I just remember the energy in Bacon [Fieldhouse] was sucked out when I double faulted. I ended up losing the set. And I was like, this is a great reset and I’m still in this and obviously can compete with basically the number two girl in the country at this point. And I just continued to compete and make it really hard like to let her win. That’s my kind of thing, like I’m gonna be really tough out. I’m gonna dig in and I’m gonna find a way to win, if you keep me around long enough. And in the second set, I would hit a winner and everyone would stand up. I got the crowd more involved and that’s a turning point. It went to a tiebreaker, but I had so much confidence that I was gonna win that match at home. There’s nothing better than playing, you know being the underdog, but at home on your home court. It’s the coolest thing.

A: Wow, that sounds amazing! So then you qualified for the ITA cup. And you talked about not focusing as much on the wins and more on your performance. But how did you feel coming off that performance?

SY: It’s tough because tennis is both an individual and team sport. It’s both, but in my mind it’s team first. It was cool to have people say something like “congrats on the weekend,” but I just think it’s an interesting dynamic, because I gotta go back to school. And then we played one more tournament before the ITA cup. And the team is first in my mind always, so it wasn’t really ever about me. I wouldn’t have been where I was without my team and the guys’ team on the bench cheering for me when I was down a set, like it wouldn’t have happened. So it’s the team first.

A: So then the ITA cup itself was next? How did you feel going into that competition?

SY: I was really nervous. I don’t really know why. But it was just like, I was the only one on the team going, and I was going with my assistant coach staff. And it just felt weird to be the only one going and I let it get to my head, just a little bit, but I was very nervous to play and get there. But once I got to Rome, Georgia, it was like, “I’m here, I made it, let’s have some more fun and just continue to compete.” That’s why I got as far as I have, mostly because of my team. But also because I’ve just decided to take every opportunity to give my best self in competition. So yeah when I got there, I felt like I kind of belonged a little bit. And I started to settle in.

A: What kind of hope or motivation does this success kind of give you for the spring season? Going forward?

SY: It motivates me to continue to work because I know that the work I’ve put in has shown itself, and it’s nice that I have results to back that up. But I think it also shows the young team what you can do if you don’t focus on something that’s not controllable, and if you just continue to believe in our core principles as Wes Tennis, you know like, “win the day, be the spark, and how can I help?” and if you just dig into those, anything can happen. And you know, it’s cool to have a little bit of success in the fall and hopefully the team realizes how much they helped me and use that for our benefit in the spring. 

A: What are the hopes as a team for the upcoming spring season?

SY: I think the hopes are to continue to embrace this new culture we’ve created and continue to be the Wes Tennis family with the guys. That’s pretty unique, where we’re practicing together, we’re spending time together. We’re eating dinner together and putting in effort and that we have each other’s backs no matter what. And I think that that’s like the number one hope is to continue to build this unity off the court and on the court during offseason practices. So then we’ll sound unified when we come out against Amherst this spring.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu.

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