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Whittier College tennis players earn off-the-court accolades

WHITTIER — To win a championship in any college sport is special. But to be named for an academic award is even more special for the student-athlete.


The Whittier College men’s and women’s teams recently received the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Academic honor for NCAA DIII.


The men combined for a program-high 3.72 cumulative GPA, while the women averaged a 3.47 cumulative GPA.


In addition, seven men and four women also were named as individuals receiving the award.


The seven men were 2020 graduates Michael Kawachika, Maxwell Koszowski, Thomas Koszowski, and Sam Whitehill; senior Jesse Eccles; junior Pim van der Veer; and sophomore Mason Lebby.


The four women were 2020 graduate Madeline Schmidt-Perez, senior Kallysta Lopez; junior Julie Cutler and sophomore Emily List.


“We take great pride in our student-athletes, especially when they are able to excel as they do,” second-year Whittier College Tennis Director Aron Mayes said. “I couldn’t be more proud.


“We definitely have big plans for the future of Whittier College. I took over in January. With the combination of bringing in good recruits and improving the players that we have, I’m very excited for what the future holds for us. We compete in one of the top conferences in the nation.


“With the tough competition, it’s going to be hard to break into the top three. My five-year goal is to break into the top tier in the conference, which usually means the top 15 in the country.”


Mayes, whose wife Andrea Madrigal is an assistant coach along with Anthony Sena, previously was an assistant coach at Cal State Los Angeles.


Mayes, who had several offers from out-of-state universities to play after high school, stayed in Los Angeles and helped with the CSULA women’s team and finished his degree in Philosophy. He earned an associate degree at Mt. SAC while playing tennis.


“When I was at Cal State L.A., they treated me as an equal,” Mayes said. Mayes worked for years with beginners, high-end players that went on to Stanford and other DI universities and with players trying to get on the circuit.


Madrigal played three years at DIII La Verne and a fourth at DII Concordia.


Sena was an assistant during the 2019 season before coming on board with Mayes.


“Both of my assistant coaches have equal input for both teams,” Mayes said.     


To be named an ITA Scholar-Athlete, one must meet the following requirements:

Have a grade point average of at least 3.5 (on a 4.00 scale) for the current academic year

Be listed on the institutional eligibility form


To be named an ITA All-Academic Team, programs must meet the following requirements:

Have a team grade point average of 3.2 or above (on a 4.00 scale),

All student-athletes included should be listed on the institutional eligibility form, and

All varsity letter winners should be factored into the cumulative team GPA for the current academic year


“Aron Hayes and his wife Andrea Madrigal, in just their short time with the Whittier College tennis program, have proven their ability to lead,” said Lance Franey, who is the Whittier College Associate Athletic Director.  “I am truly excited for what is to come under their leadership.  The passion and knowledge of the game they both possess, along with the relationships they build both on and off the court, just shows that our program is in a great spot once we return.” 



Whittier College Tennis player Rafael Maniego hits a shot during practice. (Photo by Keith Durflinger)


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In addition to the All-Academic selections, the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) member institutions voted to award its traditional character awards for each of the spring sports teams. Nominating and voting for the awards were conducted by the members of each of the 10 spring coaching groups.


Senior Amanda Rodriguez, for the first time, earned accolades for her being recognized as the SCIAC Character Award recipient for Women’s Tennis. Rodriguez this year was named a captain for the Poets and played both No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles.


The character award is presented to a senior who best exemplifies success on the course, court, or field, in the classroom, and with involvement in community and school service.


What they said:


Aron Hayes (Whittier College Tennis Head Coach)

Q: How do you feel about your team attaining the All Academic Team?

A: It’s a great accomplishment for our team and to represent our school. We take great pride in our student athletes especially when they are able to excel when they do. We are tied with some of the top academic teams in our school.


Q: What are your big plans for the team?

A: I definitely have big plans for the future of Whittier College. I took over the program in January and with a combination of bringing in good recruits and improving the players that we have I’m very excited for what the future holds for us.


Q: What do you think you can do for the team and what heights can you bring them to?

A: “I take pride in my ability to communicate and excel my players to the far reaches of their potential and that’s what I have in store for them. I’m definitely working hard every single day to develop a structured program that is very easy to understand and that everyone can get on the same page. I’m very excited for that.”


Q: What’s the biggest challenge in front of you?

A: “Definitely we compete in one of the top conferences in our nation. With tough competition it’s going to be hard to break into the top three. But my five year goal is to break into the top three in our conference which means the top fifteen in the nation.”


Mason Lebby

Q: How do you feel about being a top academic athlete?

A: It feels good to get rewarded for managing my time well and to balance the sports academics along with just having some fun sometimes.”


Q: Playing sports and doing well in school is kind of hard to do. How did you do it?

A: Just a lot of being prepared and planning in advance. And just getting stuff done ahead of time so even if sports take longer than I think then I would have a bunch of stuff done already. Just being proactive.


Q: How do you feel about your new coach and what he’s done and what are your chances?

A: “I feel pretty good about what he’s done and how our team is doing. He came in last year half way through. We liked the way he was coaching us. Liked the way he held practice sessions and stuff outside of practice, even mental sessions. I thought it was helpful to most everyone on the team. So we decided to see what we could do this year.”


Jesse Eccles

Q: How do you feel about being a top academic athlete?

A: School has always been important to me. I mean athletics is fun. I have played tennis for a large portion of my life but education and learning is probably the most important thing for me.

To be able to combine those both and them so effectively I think is something I’m proud of myself for and I think I look to do that everywhere I go.”


Q: Why did you come to Whittier College?

A: I’m from Queenstown, New Zealand. I trained with a few people that went to college here in the states. I wanted the opportunity to go somewhere else and experience something different. To do the things I love and get an education at the same time.”


Q: How does tennis fit in there?

A:  I started playing tennis when I was eleven. I used to play a lot of sports and I think I just like the mental challenge. I kind of like being by myself. Team sports are fun and I just think tennis offered a kind of challenge that I really liked and I wanted to get better at.”


Q: How do you feel about your new coach?

A: “I think overtime you get a new coach you get new perspectives getting what their coaches have taught them. You get different experiences . You get new drills to do and you find the parts that you might not have worked on with another coach and you are working on with this coach. It’s always really exciting to get a new coach and to see how that works with the dynamic.”


Emily List

Q: How do you feel about being on the top athletes list?

A: I’m happy about it. Definitely. I really try to focus on putting school and sports first. I’m happy that my efforts came through.


Q: How do you feel about your new coach and the future of this team?

A: “He’s an amazing coach so I really think the future of it will definitely be good. I think a team with a good leader is very important to have success. I’m very hopeful about it.


Q: What are you looking forward to this next season?

A: I’m hoping for our team to rise up in the ranks. I think it would be awesome. Just really play our best out there. Despite Covid I would really like us to come out on top either way. And definitely I hope for our season to happen. I think it will be good.”


Kallysta Lopez

Q: How do you feel about being named as one of the top academic athletes?

A: It feels pretty good considering all the time you spent both in your sport and in academics paid off. And it’s really a team effort because everybody pushes each other to do their best in tennis and in academics. All the study groups that you do with friends or sometimes with the team too. Whenever anyone is available.


Q: Do you look forward to tennis and your new coach?

A: “I’m really looking forward to it. He’s shown a lot of different tactics that different coaches have shown us and it seems to benefit and resonate with the team. There’s been so much improvement I’ve seen between this year alone and previous years.”


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