In the Locker Room: Fourth-Year, Tennis Champion Francesca Kern


Courtesy of Oberlin Athletics

Francesca Kern competing during a recent singles tennis match

Francesca Kern, College fourth-year and captain of the women’s tennis team, has been on a streak of incredible wins this season. Kern received the title of North Coast Atlantic Conference Athlete of the Week during their first year, and despite not having a regular season since, was awarded the title again last week. Off the court, they can be found studying art history, traveling to new places in the world, or spending quality time with their friends and teammates.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you start playing tennis? Was there a single moment when you realized that you should go to Division III, or was it a process?

I actually started playing tennis pretty late compared to a lot of other tennis players and people who play in college at a higher level. I started playing when I was about 13 or 14. I really started to get serious in eighth grade, and once I got to high school, I started to play more in the United States Tennis Association, which is basically how you get ranked and recruited based on how well you do. After kind of figuring out my record, I started to look at places where I could play tennis in college that were appropriate for my level. My sister played Division I lacrosse at the University of Michigan — she was really good, but it was basically like a job for her. She ended up quitting because she got about six concussions and it was pretty dangerous. I knew I didn’t want to do something like that — I wanted to enjoy playing my sport — so Division III was the best option.

How do you think you’ve grown as a player this season?

I feel as if I grew in the realm of competition. I only really had one season to compete since COVID-19, so I tried to take the competition that I did have this year really seriously. I’ve learned how to assume a bit more of a leadership role, which was something that worried me at first — going from only playing one season to being captain in the blink of an eye. But it was a great experience and I learned a lot by helping my teammates and cultivating a team dynamic. Because I took my competition way more seriously, I was able to really get more out of my season, and I learned how to push through and be successful in tough situations. 

What was it like earning NCAC Athlete of the Week last week?

It was like a full-circle experience in my first weekend at college playing tennis, I got NCAC Athlete of the Week, and then in my last week of college athletics, I got it again. It made me feel grateful, especially because I didn’t expect to get it at all. I think a lot of people don’t really recognize how difficult tennis is, how much time it requires all of us to commit. A match can be four hours long, so considering I had won my past six matches, I felt really grateful that my hard work was being recognized — along with the rest of my team, too.

What was your favorite thing about your time here at Oberlin?

I think my favorite thing about Oberlin is probably the community. Before, I’d never been in a really supportive environment for both my athletics and academics — and social life as well. All of my professors have helped me succeed, choose between grad schools, decide what I want to do in the future, or pushed me in the right direction. My coach has done the same thing and supported me when I was going through tough times. My friends have always been a really positive support system for me. I’m surrounded by people that bring me happiness.

What advice would you give to younger Obies?

I would say take advantage of all of the different opportunities here at Oberlin: network, have fun, and just explore what makes you passionate. I feel like whenever I really leaned into other outlets or explored other opportunities, I learned so much about myself and what I enjoyed doing. Explore your options and find what brings you joy.