In the Locker Room with Sam Towne and Joe Leffler

Men’s tennis co-captains Joe Leffler and Sam Towne like to extend “doubles” beyond the court: Joe double-majors in History and Neuroscience, while Sam is a Biochemistry major and Math minor with a pre-med concentration. The Review sat down with the two to talk about the ups and downs of varsity jackets, their commitment to tennis and crossword puzzle competitions.

Madeline O'Meara, Sports Editor

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How did you decide to play tennis at Oberlin?

ST: For me, my high school didn’t have a tennis team, so I had never really played competitively, but I took lessons and always enjoyed playing and enjoyed watching it… and I thought, “So I’m at a D-III school, and maybe I have a chance of making the team” — and I thought it would be a good way to fill up my time.

JL: [The time I decided to play] was kind of during orientation. I decided on a whim to meet with the tennis coach. I played in high school, and I met up with the other freshman recruits and hit a bunch and realized it was going to be fun to play. And it was not so good of a team that I would actually get a chance to play.

ST: [I also wanted] the physical activity. I was able to avoid the freshman 15.

How has the team changed since your freshman year?

JL: Well, when we were freshmen we had mainly other freshmen on the team, and [the proportion of lowerclassmen has] dwindled over the years. In terms of skills, we’ve improved.

ST: Our freshman year we were kind of… inexperienced, a team of misfits. We didn’t win a match our freshman year.

JL: Our record was pretty abysmal.

What has been your favorite moment on the tennis team?

ST: Tennis-wise, our win last year over OWU at the [North Coast Athletic] Conference tournament. It was a 5–4 win, we had lost to them during the season 7–2, and we were also down in the match 4–2. The women’s team was there supporting us too, and so it was really exciting.

JL: In terms of playing, that was pretty fantastic. Also, [during] freshman year spring break, I kind of realized we were a team, and we were more in our matches.

Your numbers are pretty small this season. How has that affected the team?

ST: [At] the very beginning of the season, we had six people.

JL: [That] is a pretty scary place. That’s the minimum amount you need to not forfeit any matches.

ST: We sort of scrambled around to find people who were interested. People in the off-season were hitting with different individuals, and so we kind of saw who was interested. Tennis is a big time commitment, and so we didn’t want to trick anyone into joining, [but first-year] Dan Bloch, [senior] Shahab [Raza], and [first-year] Soren [Zeliger] joined.

What are you looking forward to this season?

JL: It’ll be fun to beat OWU this year. I’m looking forward to that. They’re always kind of jerks when they come here.

ST: We should also beat Grove City.

Are you looking forward to keeping your gray sweatsuits at the end of your senior season?

JL: Do other athletes get those?

ST: Well, we got our varsity jackets. I don’t actually really like it.

JL: It makes my head look small.

ST: Maybe I need to work out a little more, get a little buffer, and then I can wear it.

Tennis is interesting because it is very much based on individual performance but also has a strong team component: How do you feel about that dynamic?

JL: It’s nice being out there and knowing you’re not just there for yourself. It’s hard to think that I would fight this mental and physical battle as a selfish thing. It’s nice that you’re working towards your team’s goals — you get to take your ego out of the equation. It’s not really about where you rank on the team, it’s where you’re going to serve the team best. [For example], I’m very happy the way [sophomore] Logan [Chun] played on Saturday [against Wabash College and Elmhurst College]. I haven’t seen him play that way in a while.

How is your team dynamic?

ST: For the most part, we get along.

JL: It’s a small team with seven or eight people; you can get tired of spending that much time with people, but we do a good job of not getting on everyone’s nerves.

ST: If I didn’t like spending time with them then I would not be on this team.

JL: That’s how it’s been since freshman year.

What about your relationship with your coach, Adam Shoemaker (OC ’96)?

ST: Our coach knows the game of tennis, and so he puts the emphasis on that and on strategy.

JL: He understands that you’re going to put the time in, so he provides you the means to do as best as you can. He has had a huge range of talent over our four years, and he’s never favored any superstar on the team. I really appreciate that.

If you had to give each other a superlative, what would it be?

JL: [To Sam] I feel like you’re ‘craftiest.’ In various ways: good at solving puzzles, good at solving puzzles on the tennis court. Sam’s a master crossword puzzle. Anyone that prints them off and races people…

ST: There are many good things I could say about Joe. I mean you’re pretty crafty too. You’re a really good doubles player; pretty intense on the tennis court. I think you might be the most competitive.

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