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April 14, 2000 - Image 19

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The Michigan Daily, 2000-04-14

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 14, 2000 - 19

KING

OF THE

COURTS

By Brian Steere AN Daily Sports Writer

r some athletes, being the best in
their sport is the only thing that
matters. But for Michigan senior
t nis player Matt Wright, it's been a
strong commitment to both academics
and athletics that's driven him to suc-
ceed.
With the season nearing its end and
graduation approaching, Wright knows
that he's about to conclude a chapter of
his life. After playing on a tennis team
for the past eight years, this season
marks the final time that he will be able
to share an experience with other team-
qes. But no matter what the future
y bring, Wright's years as a tennis
player have shaped him into the person
that he is today. Through hard work and
dedication, he's become a winner -
both on and off the court.
Since he first picked up a tennis rack-
et at age six, Wright fell in love with the
sport.
No matter what he was doing or
; re he was going, Wright had a rack-
r a ball in his hand. Growing up in
Wichita, Kan., he used to hit the ball for
hours back and forth off the side of his
house. When the weather turned bad, he
made his parents move their cars so he
could practice in the garage.
"I was an absolute fanatic for the
game - I always wanted to play,
Wright said. "I remember going back to

that house a few years ago and still see-
ing the ball marks that I had made on
the wall."
Soon, Wright moved his game onto
real courts, but his endless practicing
habits remained the same.
"We couldn't keep him off the court,"
said Wright's mother, Nancy. "Whether
it was dragging his father and me out
there to play with him or begging us for'
lessons, Matt always had a desire to play
and to keep improving."
By the time he reached Wichita
Collegiate High School in 1992, Wright
had already established himself as a pre-
mier tennis player in the country. As a
junior in the 12 and 14 age divisions of
USTA, Wright finished No. I in the
Missouri Valley when he was at the top
of his age group, and he earned a
national ranking in the Top 30 for both
of those years.
It's no surprise that he had one of the
greatest high school tennis careers in
the history of the state of Kansas.
Throughout his four years, Wright com-
piled a 110-0 overall singles record and
won four consecutive individual state
championships - a feat achieved by
only two other players in the state's his-
tory.
When it was time to pick a college for
tennis, Michigan was a distant third
choice behind Texas Christian and
Kansas.

"I remember vividly that I didn't want
to get on the plane for my visit to Ann
Arbor, but my mom dragged me,"
Wright said. "Then when I arrived on
campus and saw what the school had to
offer, I knew Michigan was the place for
me. It had the best combination of ten-
nis and academics, which made it the
complete package."
When Wright arrived at Michigan in
the fall of 1996, he joined a tennis team
that had just won a Big Ten title the pre-
vious season.
"I was just hoping to make it into the
top six of the lineup during that first
season," Wright said. "But I think coach
was expecting a lot more out of me, and
he made me believe that I could be a
great college player."
Former coach Brian Eisner certainly
showed his confidence in Wright by
making him the team's No. I singles
player by the end of his freshman year.
Wright responded with a 3-2 record at
the top spot, including a 2-0 mark at the
Big Ten Team Championships. His
strong performance helped him become
a member of the All-Big Ten
Conference Team.
Despite dropping to second singles
for his sophomore season, Wright went
24-13, and he tied for the team lead in
dual match wins (15) and Big Ten victo-
ries (10).
Wright returned to the No. I spot for

his final two seasons and developed into
an outstanding college player. At the
Big Ten Singles Championships this
past January in East Lansing, Wright
breezed to the final before falling 7-5,
6-4 to top-seeded Tyler Cleveland of
Iowa. In addition, he made his second
and third appearances on the All-Big
Ten Conference Team along with serv-
ing his first two years as a member of
the conference's All-Academic Team.
Despite these accolades, Wright
would not hesitate to exchange them all
for a Big Ten Team Championship.
"As you play more and more college
tennis, you realize how important the
team is," Wright said. "I only hope that
I can finish my career with a Big Ten
title."
A main reason for Wright's desire to
win a Big Ten title stems from his rela-
tionship with the other three seniors on
the team: John Long, Brad McFarlane,
and Ron Nano.
"Coming in with those guys four
years ago and growing with them
through all of the good times and bad
times has been something special;'
Wright said.
"Winning the Gteat Northwest
Shootout in Seattle this season, and hav-
ing the seniors close out the final match
with two three-set victories was the
greatest feeling of my college tennis
career."

Wright's record of dominance over the years
Juniors Prep College
N No. 1 in Missouri a Compiled a 110-0 Three-time All-Big
Valley his second year singles record and won Ten Conference Team.
in all age divisions four consecutive state Two-time All-Big Ten
(12's, 14's, 16's, 18's) championships Academic Team
a Ranked in top 30 of x Appeared in Sports a Reached the final of
the nation for USTA Illustrrted "Faces in the the Big Ten' Singles
every year of his junior Crowd,"~ July 1, 1996 Championships during
career after his senior season his senior season

Despite the Wolverines' 2-4 record
this year in the Big Ten, Wright feels
that the players still have some magic
left in themselves.
"We've had too much success for us
to go down without a fight," Wright
said. "I think that we're going to com-
pete the hardest at the Big Ten
Championships, and the other teams
won't want to have to face us."
Although Wright's accomplishments
reveal his greatness, he knows that he
would not be where he is today without
certain people in his life.
"I can't emphasize enough the impor-
tance of my parents over all these
years," Wright said. "They gave me the
opportunity to play tennis and have
always supported me no matter if I won
or lost."

The other special person in Wright's.
life is his girlfriend Liz Knorr, who fol-
lowed him up to Michigan from Kansas.
"Without Liz I don't know where I'd
be right now," Wright said. "She's been
such a significant part of my life, espe-
cially when I was making the transition
from high school to college."
As Wright prepares to graduate this
spring from Michigan with a degree in
political science, the future is wide
open.
"I'm definitely going to keep playing
tennis this summer, and hopefully I can
do well I do in various satellite tourna-
ments," Wright said. "If I can't compete
at that level, I'll go to law school with
Liz in the fall."
But Wright shouldn't worry about
coming out on top. He already has.

KING

OF THE

LINKS

By Jeb Singer N Daily Sports Writer

Walking down the fairway
toward the eighteenth hole
can be a time of regret.
for Mike Harris, the Michigan
aptain, the walk has often been a
triumphant one.
So far, the fifth year senior has
polished trophies from eight colle-
giate tournaments including the
1999 Big Ten championship. He also
won the prestigious Northeast
Amateur championship in 1998.
This year, he has taken four out of
the nine tournaments that he
entered.
i 1997-98 his second year, Harris
had the lowest scoring average in
Michigan history with a 72.35. He
also won three out of the twelve
events that he entered.
Although he did not rack up wins
in his junior campaign, Harris con-
tinued his dominant and consistent
play with a 72.72 average.
In his only victory of the year,
U ris became just the fourth
verine in thirty years to win a
Big Ten Championship.
His score of 278 tied for the fifth
best in Big Ten Championship histo-
ry
"I've been here twenty-one years,
and I've coached some great
golfers," his coach Jim Carras. "And
nobody, absolutely nobody has done
what he did. He is the most complete
student-athlete I've seen at
Mj'higan."
all this seems like too much, it
probably is - understandably leav-
ing his coach Harris mystified.
Harris been so consistently good in a
sport whose trademark is unpre-
dictability.
"Mike Harris is a coaches dream,'
Carras said. "I am already crying at

the thought of losing that kid."
A TIRELESS WORKER
"I have no doubt that Mike will
excel in whatever he chooses to do
whether it is in the corporate world
or on the PGA tour. He has an amaz-
ing work ethic and discipline He
does whatever it takes."
As 7:30 a.m. rolls around, Mike
Harris is likely to be finishing up
breakfast and getting ready for early
classes.
As an honors student in the busi-
ness school, Harris attends classes
all morning Then he gets down to
business.
"After lunch, I get my clubs and
head for the course," Harris said. "I
am usually there until about dusk."
For Harris, golf is a passion, and
he refuses to leave the course with-
out putting in a full day of practice.
As a captain, he often convinces
other players to put in just as much
time.
The day does not end with golf.
Harris is guaranteed to put in a solid
three or four hours of schoolwork
before throwing in the towel.
"I am concerned with academics
and golf," Harris said. "Often golf
has come first. But I do not sacrifice
my schoolwork,"
Harris knows that his success in
the classroom and on the course has
depended on many factors.
"It is a combination of things. It is
a lot of hard work, but hard work can
only take you so far. It's a little bit of
god given ability and a little bit of
luck."
Clearly, Harris' academic achieve-
ments are enough to back this up. He
has been a three-time academic all-
Big Ten and once an academic all-

America.
"I just don't what else the kid
could do," Carras said. "He will stay
after practice and encourage his
teammates to do the same. He has an
amazing work ethic and discipline.
He does whatever it takes.
"Despite all he's accomplished,
the best part is the kid's makeup.
I've never heard the kid brag or
boast."
A STUDENT FROM THE BEGINNING
Despite his tremendous success
on the course, for Harris, the lure of
Michigan had as much to do with the
school as the golf team. After finish-
ing second in the state as a senior,
the Troy native was not recruited by
the top schools in the country.
Michigan, however, showed consis-
tent interest.
"I took a few visits elsewhere but
Michigan was a great place close to
home," Harris said "I came here
with the hopes of going to the busi-
ness school but it's not something I
counted on I just knew that the
Michigan education would be sec-
ond to none."
Harris himself has always strived
to be second to none, but like most
students, he faced a transition phase
during his first-year at Michigan and
did not play a single match or travel
with the team.
Instead of worrying about when
his turn would come, Harris made
the most out of the year and met one
of his best friends, teammate Mike
Afeldt.
"Early on, he (Afeldt) really
helped me. We had to set our own
schedules. There were days when I
honestly couldn't have cared less.
Mike pulled me out to the course

and before you'd know it, it was din-
ner time," Harris said. "My success
is a combination of internal drive
and people around you who pick you
up. I am not somebody who wakes
up in the morning and I am
obsessed. It's the fact that I love
what l do and I have great people
around me."
NOT OVER VET
Harris will never display symp-
toms of "senioritis." He has stayed
focused and believes that there is
more to achieve before the season is
over. So far the team has finished no
higher than third in the conference
and that was his freshman year.
"Winning the Big Ten team cham-
pionship would kind of be a nice
ending to my career," Harris said.
He is now looking to become the
first Michigan golfer in history to
win back to back titles. He will go in
as the clear favorite.
"Anybody can play well," Harris
said. "There will be 55 guys gunning
to be the champion, this is a huge
motivating factor."
If the unexpected happens and
Harris does not win the individual
championship, but Michigan wins
the team championship, Harris
swears that he will not be disap-
pointed.
"The team titles are more impor-
tant than the individual titles,"
Harris said. " Each of the two times
that we won this year I did not win
personally.
"This means that I've been victo-
rious in some manner six out of nine
times this year. Not many golfers in
the country can say that."
The Wolverines as a team have the
See HARRIS, Page 24

Michigan's men golf coach Jim Carras says "nobody has done what he did," about
fifth-year senior and co-captain Mike Harris.

. r

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