TENNIS: Down the line

Dan Tracy

Tennis is a sport of lines.

A service line. A baseline. Hitting the ball down the line.

As a 6 year old beginning to play tennis, ISU junior tennis player Liza Wischer hated lines, primarily the ones she had to stand in as a child at tennis lessons. Wischer, who lived near a tennis center in her hometown of Grand Forks, N.D., began taking tennis lessons along with her three siblings after a flood closed the city’s YMCA where the family used to play other sports such as basketball and soccer.

Wischer’s mother, Jane, dealt with a number of daughter Liza’s emotional outbursts, especially when the two would meet at the car after a lesson.

“[Liza] would tell me she hated tennis and that she’d never play again,” Jane said. “I’d just tell her not until[her next lesson] you aren’t.”

After a year of frustration and disputes with her mother about continuing her lessons, seven-year-old Wischer began to understand that the sport of tennis was not just about standing in line, but rather competing in matches.

“When she actually realized what the sport was, it made all the difference for her,” Jane said.

The lines began to subside as Wischer moved up the playing levels at the tennis center and by the time she was eight she began competing on the United States Tennis Amateur circuit. Wischer would continue to play USTA tournaments across the country for the next 10 years, ranking nationally in both singles and doubles from the time she was 12 until she graduated from Grand Forks Red River High School when she was 18.

Beginning her amateur career at eight years old is young, which made it no surprise that she started her high school career for the Rough Riders at the No. 1 singles position as a seventh grader. Wischer went 18-0 in her first season, qualifying for the North Dakota state tournament. Wischer received congratulations in the weeks leading up to the tournament, but didn’t recognize the significance of making it to the state tournament.

“I didn’t really realize that [the state tournament] was such a big deal, I just took it as another tournament,” Wischer said.

Wischer won all four of her state tournament matches, becoming the youngest person to ever win a state singles title in North Dakota tennis history.

“As the years went on, I kind of realized it was kind of a big deal but I still tried to treat it as another tournament,” Liza said.

Her title in seventh grade was the first, but certainly not the only time that Wischer made high school tennis history in North Dakota. Wischer continued playing No. 1 singles for the next five seasons and never lost to a singles opponent, going a perfect 129-0 and winning six state singles titles throughout her high school career. In Wischer’s time at Grand Forks Red River, the Rough Riders became the first team in North Dakota state history to win six straight team state titles as well.

“[The competition] kind of fizzled out as I got older and I was the one playing younger players but at the beginning it was tough and I can’t believe I won those years,” Wischer said.

Wischer received numerous accolades after her undefeated high school career, including North Dakota’s Senior Tennis Player of the Year Award and a Special Achievement Award from the North Dakota Associated Press. Wischer was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces In The Crowd” as a high school sophomore and was featured in articles by USA Today, and the USTA.

More so than her individual accolades, however, Wischer feels that the most important characteristic of competitive tennis that she learned while in high school came through her time spent with her team.

“Tennis is an individual sport but if you play high school tennis you get the team aspect out of it and you realize that you win as a team and you lose as a team,” Wischer said.

Wischer met a number of players from around the country in her traveling to USTA tournaments, including two of her future amateur and collegiate doubles teammates. Whitney Taney, currently at Michigan, also went undefeated (166-0) in high school while at Edina High School in Minnesota and Alyssa Palen, a senior at Iowa State has been Wischer’s roommate for the past two years. Wischer stayed with Palen on her official recruiting visit to Iowa State when she realized she wanted to be a Cyclone.

“I liked the school. It felt safe and I wouldn’t have to fly home, everything just seemed to click that’s why I chose to come here,” Wischer said.

Wischer held down the No. 1 Singles position throughout her high school career but as a Cyclone she has not always been in the singles line-up. Wischer earned seven victories as a freshman and went 22-12 in singles play last season, but has played in only three of the five singles matches this season.

“I hope that whenever I get the chance to play that I can win and do better than I did last year,” Wischer said.

Wischer is 2-1 in singles but has made her mark this season alongside Palen as the pair leads the Cyclones with a 4-0 doubles record. Palen attributes their on-court success to the relationship that they roommates and former USTA competitors have off the court.

“We’re such good friends off the court and on the court that helps us stay positive and support each other which is a big thing in doubles,” Palen said.

Wischer continued her campaign with three wins, one in singles and two in doubles, last weekend in the Cyclones victories over Drake and the University of Illinois-Chicago.

“She’s one of those players that you know exactly what you’re going to get out of [her],” said coach Armando Espinosa.

Espinosa hopes that Wischer can continue to perform well when she gets into the line-up, especially with the Big 12 conference season less than a month away.

“We know that she is going to be competitive no matter what position we put her at,” Espinosa said.

Wischer, a communication studies major, hopes to pursue a career as an academic adviser to a collegiate athletic team after she graduates in May 2011.