One Last Run
May 6, 2009
By Larry Watts
Will the third time be the charm? Michigan senior Chisako Sugiyama certainly hopes so.
Sugiyama and her Wolverine tennis teammates will be heading to Notre Dame this weekend for the third time in the past four years to compete in the NCAA Division I Championships. Michigan's season ended with losses to the Fighting Irish on the previous two trips.
"Beating Notre Dame is doable," says the Parsippany, N.J. native. "We're all excited about the opportunity because we lost to them 4-3 earlier this year and not everyone was playing as well as they could have been.
"Notre Dame is a tough team, but, in the end, we know what to expect. If we play well, we should be able to get the job done. But first we have get past Sacramento State."
The 17th-ranked Wolverines drew an at-large bid after taking runner-up honors to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament. Claiming the regional title in South Bend will advance them to the final 16 field May 15-19 at Texas A&M.
Sugiyama, selected as an alternate for both singles and doubles (with teammate Tania Mahtani), certainly has been doing her share to keep the Michigan dream alive. Ranked No. 62 nationally, she recently became the winningest player in school history and will take a career mark of 104-40 into the regional.
"Not making the singles or doubles field was pretty disappointing,"' she says. "I knew it would be a challenge, but at least I get to compete for Michigan one more time. It was be a great reward to make it to Texas A&M as a team.
"As far as the record goes, I had no idea I was close until someone mentioned it to me earlier this year. Subconsciously, I wanted to break that record, but I had no idea what it was. Having my name up there at Michigan for something I do and love is a great honor, but I couldn't have done it without all the coaches and trainers helping me along the way."
When Sugiyama says coaches, she is referring to the fact she has had three different head coaches during Michigan career.
"It's been a learning experience to have three different head coaches, but everything happens for a reason and you can't change anything," she says. "I learned something different from each coach and I was able to do everything I wanted to do, so the change in coaches didn't hold me back at all.
"As a team, I don't think anyone has hard feelings about the coaching changes. It's us who are playing out there and winning the matches."
Sugiyama claims her experience at Michigan has helped her become a more independent person. During her freshman year, her parents moved back to Japan, where she has managed to visit for a few weeks each summer.
"I was born in Japan, but my father brought us to New Jersey on a business trip when I was 5," she says. "We were only supposed to stay two or three years, but it turned out to be nearly 15.
"Having your parents around certainly would make things easier, but I'm a pretty independent person. The hardest thing is when I need to talk to them. There's a 13-hour time difference, so I have to look at the clock and figure out what time it is in Japan and if it's OK for me to call. I've made it through four years, so it hasn't been too bad."
Sugiyama claims one of the big reasons she has survived has been the Wolverines' team chemistry. Before committing to Michigan, she also checked out Illinois, Kentucky and a few Florida schools.
"When I visited Michigan, the girls were great and the chemistry was just right," she says. "And I loved the big athletic campus. I went to a private school in New Jersey and there were only 100 people in my graduating class, so I definitely wanted to go to a big school that was really into sports.
"Growing up, I usually played every sport that was on land, but I wasn't very good in the water. Put me in a pool and I might die in a couple of minutes. When I go to the beach, I like to lay out, but I'm not a big swimmer."
Since she grew up close to New York City, Sugiyama was used to a more fast-paced world when she came to Ann Arbor. But she has found no problems making the adjustment.
"It's more laid back around here, but what I have found is the people in the Midwest are so nice and genuine," says Sugiyama, who returns to Parsippany to stay with friends during her long breaks. "What has made this great is I refused to be stuck in my own little world of tennis. I always go to football games, some basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics and track meets. I wanted to take advantage of the total Michigan experience and I have made a lot of friends on other teams."
Sugiyama is a movement science major in the school of kinesiology. She wanted to get into athletic training when she came to Michigan, but her tennis schedule did not allow the time.
"It's really fascinating to study the body and its movement, seeing how all the muscles work and how the body interacts with certain things," she says. "Since I have been involved in sports all my life, I want to do something sports-related when I'm finished."
But the end of her college career doesn't mean an end to her playing days. Sugiyama plans on entering some lower level tournaments over the course of the next year to see where her game can take her.
"I found a good grad school program for athletic training at Seton Hall, but I'm going to put that off for a year," she says. "I've been offered a job in physical therapy, but I want to see where tennis can take me first. I don't know if I'll be traveling alone or with someone else."
According to Sugiyama, leaving the team atmosphere at Michigan will be a big hurdle to overcome.
"I've spent the past four years traveling with seven or eight girls, so now I will have to do everything by myself and keep myself motivated. But I have to go and do what I want to do.
"I never thought I would have so much fun playing on a team with a bunch of girls who wanted to achieve the same goals. To represent Michigan and play with girls who have that same passion is one of the best experiences I could have ever had."