When Western Washington University junior Cooper Anderson inherited the presidency of WWU's club tennis team in September 2013, he was gifted the weight of leading a team with a history of success.
WWU had been to the U.S. Tennis Association Tennis on Campus National Championship each of the 14 years prior to naming Anderson president, and he would be expected to continue that tradition. And he did, helping the team to a third place finish in the Pacific Northwest Sectional, good enough to give the team its 15th berth to nationals.
"We are the only school in the nation to do that," Anderson said in a phone interview. "It's something I'm really proud of personally. It kind of blows my mind."
The national championship is slated for April 10-12 in Surprise, Ariz. WWU is one of 64 teams invited to the tournament.
Anderson was also named the Tennis on Campus Leader of the Year. The award is presented "to the college student who has made significant contributions to the USTA's Tennis On Campus program in a manner that benefits the well-being of their fellow students and the surrounding community," according to the Tennis On Campus website.
"One of the biggest things is starting or hosting a tennis on campus event," Anderson said. "For that, I set up an invitational tournament WWU hosted in my hometown of Yakima."
Anderson started playing tennis at age seven and comes from a family of tennis players. His mother, older sister and younger brother all play the sport. In middle school, Anderson started taking tennis more seriously, playing everyday. That foundation helped him get to the high school state championships in tennis his sophomore, junior and senior years. He took third place in doubles competition at state his junior and senior years.
"My first job was at a tennis club in Yakima," Anderson added. "I was teaching lessons and I've just fallen in love with the sport. I didn't know how far it would take me and its been one of the bigger accomplishments in my life."
Anderson has focused the WWU tennis club on expanding its involvement in the community through volunteering with the school's Asia University America Program. The club members are conversation partners with visiting exchange students to improve their learning and comprehension of the English language.
The team has taken part in some other volunteer opportunities during the winter offseason, when the weather doesn't allow it to practice outside. This May, Anderson plans to host an open for some of the schools in the Northwest Section at WWU, and hopes to add some head-to-head competitions with those schools as well.
"Those events are more social than intense competition," Anderson said.
For nationals, the team Anderson will bring to Arizona is a little different than the team that won sectionals. Its top player, Kai Toyoda, was an exchange student who has returned to Japan, and another player is taking the quarter off for an internship.
"We view getting to nationals as the finish line, anything on top of that is a bonus," Anderson said. "We're not putting too much pressure on ourselves to win every match. We're there to connect and represent our school."
Anderson thinks the team will lean on its only senior, Chela Tsujii, who will be at her fourth national tournament. Female players are influential in club tennis because there is a bigger talent gap, whereas most of the men are closer in skill, he said.
"She brings experience and maturity," Anderson said. "She's one of our strongest female players."
Anderson called winning sectionals to advance to nationals and being named Tennis On Court's Leader of the Year two of his top tennis accomplishments. After being on and off with his involvement in the club during his first year, Anderson got more involved his sophomore year and hoped to earn a leadership position. Being the club's president has been very rewarding, he said.
"Most of the time it just feels like I'm playing tennis with my friends," Anderson said.
For more information on becoming involved with the WWU tennis club, or to donate to the team's travel fund, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Alex Peterson at 360-715-2285, or email@example.com.