Samantha Choi welcomes challenges.
While playing at the USTA Midwest Level 1 Closed Championships in June in Indianapolis, the Wheaton Warrenville South senior received an offer to play for the Naval Academy’s women’s tennis team.
“I think I [verbally] committed right on the spot. I remember telling their coach if he’s willing to take me, I’d go,” Choi said. “For me, it was more thinking about my future. Part of it was to really challenge myself. I feel like a school like that would teach me a lot more than I’d ever learn anywhere else.”
Choi has grown as a player and person through her first three seasons with the Tigers, qualifying for state each season and finishing sixth in Class 2A last season and fifth in 2016. The only three-time, top-six state finisher in WW South/Wheaton Central history is 2012 state champion Keisha Clousing, daughter of WW South coach Patti Clousing.
The past two seasons, Choi’s first state tournament losses have been to the eventual champion in the quarterfinals.
“Going farther would be nice, I guess, but honestly I don’t really expect too much for myself in state,” Choi said. “It’s really just this season for me to have fun and be with my teammates. I don’t think I’ve felt too stressed out about the brackets or who I play or what place I get. It’s more of a new experience for me every year.”
In some ways, Choi has enjoyed a rebirth as a player. After a top-12 state finish at the last one-class state meet in 2015, Choi said she seriously considered not playing tennis her sophomore year.
Choi turned to Patti Clousing for insight and eventually decided to stay. Clousing doesn’t remember exactly what she said, but she often cites the team element of high school tennis – an aspect that Choi clearly enjoys, especially the long bus rides where she and fellow Tigers can have long conversations.
“I’m sure I told her about the team atmosphere and being part of something bigger than yourself,” Clousing said. “She’s blossomed, developed into this really great leader for our program and our team. I know she had a great group of mentors when she came in and now she’s at the other end of the spectrum as the leader. She’s a very strong kid inside and outside beyond tennis.”
With that strength comes her fun side, too. Especially in preparation for entering the Navy, Choi said she’s going to make the most of her senior year with teammates and friends before possibly pursuing careers in psychology or the medical field.
The Tigers’ other returnees include seniors Emily Orlove, a 2016 state singles qualifier, and Sophia Stamatopoulos and junior Liza Dreyer. For Choi, the only stress lately has been a sprained right ankle from a mid-July match. Days before team practice officially started Aug. 8, Choi was able to play two hours.
“Before [tennis] was more of a burden but it’s really given me a future. I don’t think I would have been able to go to a very great school without tennis so I owe a lot to my parents for all of the lessons and those early-morning matches,” Choi said. “I think it was just [Clousing’s] support. I didn’t have many people I could talk to, but she was there. She kind of took me in and talking about some issues and she also talked to my parents. I think she sort of opened up our eyes a little bit.”
That athlete-coach relationship definitely will continue. Clousing was elated upon hearing the news of Choi’s commitment.
“I’ve always wanted to see the Naval Academy so now I’m going. I’ve got a very good reason to get myself to Maryland [for Choi],” Clousing said. “I knew she was going to be able to play anywhere in the country that she really wanted.”