In the Locker Room: Ariel Lewis

Madeline O'Meara, Sports Editor

Lewis, the senior matriarch of Yeowomen tennis, has started her final season emphatically by winning four of her first five contests. She sits down with the Review to share a little of her strategic wisdom, as well as her affinity for sweet chili sauce.


What made you decide to play tennis at Oberlin?

I’ve been playing tennis since I was about 4 years old, and I played in high school. I knew that it was something I wanted to continue doing in college. I was being recruited by a bunch of different schools. I got a call from Constantine [Ananiadis, women’s tennis head coach] and he said “You should check out Oberlin, I think you would really like it.” And I was just like, “Yeah, whatever.” I’m from California, and it seemed very far away. But I ended up making a visit out here, and I really liked it. I’ve been writing since I was 12, so Oberlin was just kind of a mix of everything I wanted in a college experience — to be able to be an athlete and get a good education and not be owned by my sport.

How has the team changed since you’ve been on it?

My freshman year there were six seniors and four freshmen. It was a really divided age gap. There were the more experienced players who had been around, who had had a different coach. This year we have five seniors on our team, so it’s very senior-heavy again. … We have three underclassmen. So it’s really interesting and weird because the past three years it’s been the same core group of girls; we haven’t graduated anyone since I’ve been a freshman. On the one hand, we all have strong bonds with each other, and on the other hand, it’s strange because we’re going to be leaving next year. The team hasn’t gone through a lot of big changes in that sense, [but] I think we’ve all grown tremendously.

What is your relationship like with your teammates?

I think since we’re a smaller team we bond a lot more, and it’s nice because there aren’t any cliques. We all support each other. It’s really interesting because we’re playing an individual sport as a team and that complicates the dynamic a little bit. But this year especially we’re getting along really well — no drama.

What has been your favorite tennis moment at Oberlin?

This past weekend was a really cool moment for our team because we beat Luther [College], and they’re regionally ranked at No. 10. We were No. 19, and that was the highest ranked team we’ve ever beaten. They beat us last year 5–4, so I think it just shows a lot of promise for the rest of the season. I think it just shows where we’ve come from since my freshman year.

Individually, my freshman year I had a really great match against the No. 1 player at Denison [University]. I ended up beating her in three sets. I had a similar match last year during spring break. We played Pomona [College] and I played this girl I had grown up playing and who had always beat me in [United States Tennis Association] Junior [Tournaments], and I beat her in three sets. It was a great moral victory.

I read an editorial you wrote in an old edition of the Review in which you talked about being a “pusher.” What does that term mean, and how has that style of play affected your relationship with tennis?

[“Pusher” is] a really derogatory term for the style I play. I call it being a “counterpuncher.” I don’t play an offensive style, I’m not aggressive, I don’t have a lot of power, I’m not naturally very fast, but I do know what’s [happening] on the tennis court. I can outlast my opponents, and sometimes I outsmart them.

Does that make for long matches?

The longest I’ve ever played was four hours. I’m a hard worker, and my dad always said, “Hit one more shot than your opponent.” It was definitely hard being in that 14–15 age group and beating people I wasn’t supposed to beat, [especially] when you play a style that doesn’t look good. People usually aren’t impressed when they watch me play tennis. I’m okay with that. I know I don’t look like I’m that great, but I make up for some of those things in other ways.

What are you looking forward to this season?

I think I can speak for all of the team when I say Kenyon [College] is going to be a really big match for us. We haven’t beaten them since I was a freshman, [but] we have come close. They’re kind of the next step above us. We don’t really like them. [Laughs.] This year that match happens to be on our senior day. That’s one we’re all really gearing up for.

Do you or the team have any weird pre-game rituals?

I mean, we have our playlist. We’re not really that weird. We really like “Baby” by Justin Bieber, and our coach always dances to “Paper Planes” [by M.I.A.].

If you could be dipped in any sauce, what would it be and why?

Sweet chili sauce, definitely. Because it’s amazing.