by Miranda Cloyd
From playing tennis as a 6-year-old girl with her dad and older brother to playing on Division I and Division III collegiate teams, senior Jessi Steele has been immersed in the world of tennis for a long time.
Steele grew up playing tennis but did not start playing competitively until six years ago. At University High School in Spokane Valley, Steele began her competitive career in tennis. After graduating in 2009, Steele went on to play Division I collegiate tennis for Eastern Washington University. The difference between playing at University and EWU was significant, Steele said.
“It was a big change,” Steele said. “Practice was a lot harder and more demanding. It was a lot bigger time commitment.”
Steele transferred to Whitworth in 2011. That decision was made due to various factors, primarily academic program availability. Steele is pursuing a degree in health science, which EWU offers as a minor but not a major.
In addition to the academic advantages Whitworth offered, Steele said she chose Whitworth due to the “faith-based” environment it offers.
“You just walk onto campus and there’s this certain feeling that you get,” Steele said. “The first time I came here when I was looking at it, I was like, ‘I could see myself here.’”
Upon transferring to Whitworth and joining the tennis team, Steele immediately noticed the difference in her love for her teammates.
“We can do anything together and have fun,” Steele said. “It’s fun to be able to have Bible study groups. It’s good to get to know them on a little bit deeper level.”
Steele has assisted the team in reaching its current Northwest Conference standing of 5-4 and sixth place. In addition to the team as a whole, Steele also stands at 5-4 as an individual in the NWC. Steele’s experience playing at the Division I level has given her a valuable perspective as she now plays Division III tennis.
“It’s a little bit more laid back,” Steele said. “I’m definitely the most vocal on the team because of that [Division I] experience. I’m always yelling at myself.”
Through her years of experience, Steele has discovered herself to be a lover of competition.
“I’m a naturally competitive person and an aggressive player,” Steele said. “When I have the opportunity to hit a powerful shot I’m going to take it.”
Not only does Steele love competition, she also appreciates a strong challenge. She would much rather play against an opponent who is better than she is over someone she could easily beat, Steele said.
“The hard-hitters, I love playing those,” Steele said. “Everyone on the team knows that if I have to play someone who just gets the ball back that’s my weakness.”
Steele’s teammate, senior Annika Westre, said in addition to her competitive nature, Steele is extremely reliable.
“She’s very steady,” Westre said. “She has a really hard serve and moves along the baseline well.”
Steele joked that her biggest contribution to the team is the baked goods she often brings to practices and matches.
“I make cookies and scones,” Steele said. “I really love baking so I take the opportunity to have people to bake for.”
Sophomore Caylee Lamm, Steele’s teammate, would argue that Steele’s greatest contribution is the integrity with which she plays.
“She brings character on the court,” Lamm said. “Every practice she’s working hard. If she’s frustrated, you can always tell she’s leaving it all out on the court.”
As Steele prepares to graduate this spring, she hopes to pass some wisdom on to her teammates who will return next fall.
“The real passion for the game,” Steele said. “Being able to really get into the game and cheer loud for your teammates.”
Jo Ann Wagstaff, Steele’s head coach, sees Steele as an invaluable asset to the team. She said Steele will be greatly missed.
“It’s been so great to have her,” Wagstaff said. “She’s one of those people who will think of things when I forget. She’s always doing things without being asked. We won’t be able to replace her.”
Though this season marks the end of Steele’s career in collegiate tennis, she has high hopes for the upcoming years. Steele plans to attend nursing school. If she has the chance, Steele said she will jump at the opportunity to help coach high school or college tennis.
Contact Miranda Cloyd at email@example.com