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Mental note: Boesing shines on the court for Bulldogs

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

Photos: Joe Grunner: Butler University Athletics

The game of tennis is like no other. It’s just you versus the other player on the other side of the net. The pressure to succeed is a lot at times. In the world of college tennis, every single point matters.

There are times when you have to go out there and try to make adjustments on the fly. Not every game, or match, is going to go your way. The players that make the adjustments, the quickest, are the ones that will have a great career.

Butler University senior Natalie Boesing has had a remarkable tennis career wherever she has gone. Before she stepped on the campus at Butler University, Boesing was dominating the high school tennis scene at Our Lady of Providence with an amazing 60-14 record, which included being a 3x state qualifier; a state runner-up her freshman year and a state semifinalist as a sophomore.

Her career at Butler has not disappointed, Boesing was thrusted into the number one position as a freshman — and hasn’t let go of the position since. You would think there would a lot of pressure playing at the highest position on the team, but Boesing didn’t see it that way.

After all, she was just a freshman. Boesing always places high expectations on herself. She expects the best, but she also knew there would be some growing pains at the position.

Each year the pressure mounts to be better than the year before. That’s how athletics goes. As an athlete you never want to just even off, you never want to stay at the same level. That could cause a player to put the extra pressure on themselves that they don’t already need.

There is enough pressure to win the match already.

“I was lucky enough to be surrounded by great teammates who supported me as a freshman, getting the number one position,” stated Boesing. “My mentality, when I was playing number one as a freshman, was I don’t have pressure. This is my first year. I’m going to give 102 percent, and everything will be ok. So, that really helped me back then. At the end of the day, it really helped to be surrounded by eight or nine other girls who wanted what was best for me and wanted what was best for the team.”

One of the biggest changes for Boesing this season was a new coach. Throughout her tennis career, Boesing has always had a male coach. It didn’t matter the sport, basketball, tennis or cross country.

This season, Butler has a new coach in Stephanie Wootten-Quijada. Wootten-Quijada is the first female coach that Boesing has ever had, and it has been a complete turnaround.

Boesing always thought she needed that one coach to push her, and give her that tough love.

But, what she really needed was someone to just tell her everything was going to be ok when times were getting tough on the court. Boesing puts enough pressure on herself already, this change has helped her balance herself out.

“I always thought that I responded best to a hard coach who stayed on you all the time, and pushed you and pushed you. It turns out, in the tennis world, as lonely as it cane be - and as mentality challenging that it is, I eventually figured out that I put enough pressure on myself that what I really needed was someone to just sit on my side of the court, smile at me, and say Natalie it’s going to be ok,” stated Boesing. “Her sitting over there, and smiling, and understanding that I put enough pressure on myself, and hard enough on myself, that she can sit there and smile and tell me to enjoy every moment. It has changed the way I think about the game.”

Boesing has summed up what it’s like to play tennis as a singles player. You have no one around you to help you get through these points. While a player my poses the physical tools to compete with some of the best in the country, they may falter when it matters most.

Boesing has worked on her mental game a lot since coming to Butler. The summer before her junior year Boesing put tennis first. It may have been the first time she put the game ahead of everything else.

In high school she was the three-sport star. She was the cross-country runner, and basketball player, to go along with playing tennis in the spring. But, she buckled down after her sophomore season at Butler and saw major success on the tournament circuit.

“That summer I really went hard at the tournaments,” stated Boesing. “I had some insane results. I really improved my rankings and my ratings. And, everything was just skyrocketing. Then school stared and I kind of hit a wall.”

When she got back to school, to get ready for her junior season, something just didn’t mesh. All that confidence she gained during the summer kind of just stalled. The biggest reason for it could have been the fact that she was no longer the underdog.

For years Boesing played with that chip on her shoulder. She went out there and wanted to prove to everyone that she belonged with the best of the best.

Than that summer happened. Boesing was killing it on the court. Her ranking was climbing and climbing and now she was no longer the hunter, but the hunted. The mentality had to change from being the one that was always looking to take on the big dog, to now having everyone looking to take her out.

“The tables where reversed. I was always the underdog. So, I never had pressure,” stated Boesing. “When I started too get attention from all this stuff the tables had turned. I was never the underdog anymore, and I needed to learn to play with pressure.”

For some players playing with pressure is never easy. They would rather be the hunter than the hunted. Early on in Andre Agassi’s career he didn’t want all the fame that came with being ranked number one, and winning grand slam titles. He dropped off the table and was ranked in the 200 hundreds before rededicating himself to the sport he loved.

It took him awhile to warm up to the fact that he could beat anyone in the world. It took Boesing about a year to figure out how to win play with all the pressure that comes with being good. When others schools come to Butler they want to take out the number one player on the team.

“I can’t lie, it took me about a year to understand how to play with pressure, and understanding the mental game of tennis,” stated Boesing. “There definitely would be stretches during my junior year that I would be so tight during a match that I couldn’t get the ball pass the service line. I just couldn’t get my mind right. I couldn’t get the mental part of tennis under control.”

Boesing has the mental part of her game under control now. There are times she just needs to remind herself that she knows how to play this game. She knows how to hit a serve, or a backhand.

Sometimes it’s just doing some of the simple things on the court that will get her back in the right frame of mind.

“It’s relaxing myself, and trusting myself. A lot of times, it’s just as simple as smiling, and remembering that tennis is a sport,” stated Boesing. It’s about going out there and competing your ass off. If you are happy with your effort at the end of the day, there is nothing else you can do after that. So, once I was able to grasp that it’s not about all the wins and loses, but improving everyday, it really changed my mental game on the tennis court.”

Boesing has been on her game so far in the early season. This past week, Boesing rattled off three wins against some good competition. Her only loss was against Notre Dame. For her efforts, Boesing was named the Big East Singles Player of the Week.

This isn’t the first time Boesing has come home with the award. She already won it once earlier in the year, and claimed one last year - to go along with All-Big East first team honors. While this wasn’t her first time, it still feels special to bring home such a great honor.

It shows that people are taking notice of how she’s playing this year.

“Getting the Big East Player of the week has been a great honor,” stated Boesing. “I was so excited when I received the message. The first thing I did was call my parents and tell them. It was awesome. I was really excited.”

Boesing was going for a perfect week but ran into a very tough player from Notre Dame in senior Julia Andreach. Andreach (Rochester, NY, Our Lady of Mercy) was able to keep Boesing off balance most of the match.

Andreach broke early in both sets, and kept Boesing more on the defensive than offensive. After having some time to reflect on the match Boesing admitted she needed to step inside the baseline more and be on the attack, instead of trying to hit winners from three-feet behind the baseline.

Despite the loss, Boesing did show grit. Once being down 3-0, in the first set, Boesing could have easily just rolled over. But she did try to climb back in the set, and even got to 5-2. It’s not easy trying to figure it out on the fly - especially when Andreach was on her game. It

seemed like the Notre Dame senior just couldn’t miss with whatever shot she wanted to use.

“From my point of view, after going back and thinking about it a little bit, for me the issue I have sometimes starting matches is that I am a little bit too conservative,” stated Boesing. “I stand a little bit too far away from the baseline, and almost expect them to miss, instead of creating offense - which is what I am good at. I have a very good offensive serve. My forehand is a weapon, and some of my best shots are an inside out forehand. But, when you are that far behind the baseline, I can’t wait for her to make mistakes. That’s something that’s not going to come easy. I need to make her make mistakes, or just play more offensively. By the time I figured it out, to take a step or two inside the court, she gained enough confidence that she was rocking and rolling.”

Boesing is soaking in her final year of college tennis. As she goes to different venues it starts to hit her that it will be the last time at some of these places. While she is focused on the present, Boesing still has an eye toward the future.

If that summer had taught her anything, Boesing can play with some of the best players. If she didn’t give the pro circuit a try she would just be cheating herself. She would be cheating herself the opportunity to go out on her own terms.

“I’m definitely not ready to give up tennis. I thought about being a grad assistant, still hit with the team and play some of my own matches on the side,” stated Boesing. “I thought about maybe trying to go pro, and play in some tournaments. I can guarantee after this season is over that I’m not hanging up the racquet. Regardless of what I decide to do, I know that tennis will be in the plans. I talked to my parents a little bit about it as well, and they are on board for whatever I decide. At the end of the day, I just don’t want to regret not trying. For me I would be happy that I just gave myself a shot.”

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