By Sal Pizaro, San Jose Mercury News, May 30, 2021
Liz Westergren is a freshman on the women's tennis team at Mission College in Santa Clara. Her bio on the team's web page says she loves animals and chose Mission "to play tennis and get on the dean's list." She's also 71 years old and a heck of a doubles player.
While Westergren is the most senior player on Mission's tennis team of 13 players, the others are in their 40s, 50s and 60s with the youngest in her late 20s. The COVID-19 pandemic played a role in bringing together the seasoned team as Coach Scott Howard was unable to visit high school campuses to recruit players last year. Many colleges scratched their seasons altogether because of the challenge, but Howard saw an opportunity to reach out to the South Bay's tennis community and recruit a full team.
But despite their experience level, the team members are legit students, Assistant Coach Kathleen Watson said. "While the age range of our team might be considered non-traditional, the players still have to take a full academic load of units, maintain good academic standing and meet all the other eligibility requirements," she said. Like other students, they talk about their classes during practice and finish up homework on the team bus. "Many of them have earned straight As in their academic courses," Watson said.
They've got pretty incredible lives outside of school, too. The team members include Reine Johansen, an aerospace systems engineer at NASA Ames; Amy Robinson, a former Cisco executive who now runs an international nonprofit; Sherry Keogh, a yoga instructor and fitness trainer; Lara Norman-Stowers, a former video game artist; and Westergren, who is originally from the United Kingdom and serves as an assistant tennis coach at Presentation High School in San Jose.
Having three or four decades on their opponents wasn't daunting for the team, especially after their first win. They have decades of experience playing and teaching tennis — using strategy to outsmart younger, stronger teams. Of course, they also had to deal with regular college sports challenges, like team buses running late, and others unique to the COVID era, such as, not being able to cross-train in the gym or have in-person team meetings and sometimes play with masks on.
None of it kept them down. The team finished with a 4-3 record after a big 7-2 win on the road against Cañada College in Redwood City on Thursday night, putting them in second place in the Coast Conference.
"Seeing these players compete is a roller coaster of emotions," Watson said. "I'm proud to see these special women help an on-again, off-again program stay alive so that the next generation of incoming student-athletes will have a chance to pursue their dreams and play on a college team."