Early Dedication Pays Off for Epstein
By Mike Humby
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Yale senior women's tennis captain Elizabeth Epstein never really enjoyed the typical activities of most young girls, like figure skating, ballet, and gymnastics. But when her father introduced her to tennis at age five, Epstein found a sport she loved – and one she was really good at.
Peter Epstein, who had played tennis in high school, signed his only child up for her first lessons at the Midtown Tennis Club in their home city of Chicago. Her dad had a big influence on Epstein's early training, taking her to the courts to hit 100 balls over the net every day, before and after school. This daily practice and discipline paid off, and Epstein learned the basics of the sport quickly. She also enjoyed the camaraderie of her new friends at the club, so she decided at age eight to give up her other childhood activities to focus solely on junior tennis competitions.
Epstein continued to compete at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, where she helped the team win consecutive state championships in 2007 and 2008. As senior co-captain, Epstein received many accolades for her outstanding tennis play, including being recognized as the Chicago Tribune/WGN Athlete of the Month and the National High School Tennis Athlete of the Year in 2009.
When it came time to select a college, Yale seemed like a natural choice. Epstein was looking for a school with "a great balance of academics and athletics." In fact, she also had family ties here. Her father is from New Haven and her grandfather, Herb, was in Yale's Class of 1945. Both grandparents on that side were born in the Elm City.
After meeting head coach Danielle Lund McNamara and the other women on the team, Epstein was convinced she had made the right choice. "Coming to Yale has been a life-changing event for me. I have changed as a person in so many ways and matured during my time here."
Over her accomplished college career, Epstein has played against many tough Southeastern Conference schools like Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. Competing against these schools has raised her confidence level and motivated Epstein and her teammates to challenge Ivy League rivals like Harvard and Princeton, who have tested the team in recent years.
As a sophomore, Epstein helped the team claim its first NCAA tournament win against William and Mary. The Bulldogs finished the season ranked 31st in the country and Epstein was proud to share this impressive achievement with her team. "When you help make history for your school and program, it's hard to accurately describe the feeling. The experience is one you will never forget for the rest of your life."
Epstein has had extremely successful junior and senior years, recording numerous wins in both singles and doubles. One of her most memorable moments on the court came against Princeton in the closest match of the Ivy League season last year. "When you clinch a match, it always holds a certain spot in your heart. I'll never forget clinching the match against Princeton last year, 7-5 in the third set when the match was tied at 3-3, "she said.
"E", as she is affectionately called by her teammates, was honored to receive the Lisa Rosenbaum Award as team MVP the last two seasons, and was chosen as captain, a role she takes very seriously.
Epstein feels a responsibility to set a good example and provide strong leadership for her eight teammates. "This year I have made it a priority to cultivate a good relationship with each member of the team. It's also important to always come prepared and upbeat for practice. It's sometimes hard on days when you are stressed, but it is surprising how drastically one person's mood can affect the entire practice."
Epstein's success on the court is due to many factors, including her intense training schedule and good nutrition. The team usually practices six days a week for two hours, combined with forty five minutes of lifting and conditioning to improve general body strength. "We have also added more lessons before practice, which are group hitting sessions with the coaches," she said.
Epstein also notes the mental preparation required. "This season we have also started writing in journals the night before matches. This has really helped me visualize and think about how I want to play the next day."
The Pierson College resident is a political science major. Although she has enjoyed her studies at the university, she is undecided about her plans after graduation.
As she finishes up her final year on the tennis team, she and her parents have fond memories. "The time here is precious. I can vividly remember many of the matches from my freshman year and can't believe how fast the time passes."