Kelsey Lawson of DePaul women’s tennis earns 100th win

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Kelsey Lawson still remembers her first individual collegiate tennis match.

Lawson and the team traveled to Norman, Okla., home of the University of Oklahoma. The team was there solely for business, competing in the Sooner Invitational tournament.

Overwhelmed with nerves, Lawson faced Alisa Buslaieva of Oklahoma. To cope, Lawson relied on what made her successful in high school – hitting the ball really, really hard.

Lawson lost 6-3 and 6-4. Her hardhitting skills only went so far.

“I had a bad fall,” Lawson said. “When I came here, I could hit the ball really hard, but that was about it. I couldn’t keep three balls on the court. I’d have meltdowns on the court.”

While the memory may be vivid in Lawson’s mind, the girl who appeared on that court is no longer the same type of tennis player. Recently, Lawson earned her 100th win, becoming only one of three women’s tennis players in DePaul history to hit that mark.

“It was really exciting because I didn’t set out for this,” Lawson said. “It was about last year that I realized that I was getting really close (to 100 wins). Going into this year, I made it a personal goal for myself to achieve it.”

Lawson was fully aware that it was in grasp heading into an April 6 match with the University of Houston. The senior individually kept count all year, constantly checking the team’s website to keep track of her record.

Part of her four-year transformation, however, is to shift her mindset as the match approaches. Lawson focuses on a song to keep in her head if she does start thinking, but generally she plays off instinct and what her coaches drill into her.

“My grandpa always told that ‘a good athlete is a dumb athlete’,” Lawson said. “It’s the one quote that has stuck with me. You just have to shut your brain off. Tennis is all about acting on the court. You have to fool your opponent into thinking you’re in control the whole time.”

In the middle of her 100th-win match, Lawson’s instinct took over. Going head-to-head with Houston’s Maria Andrea Cardenas, Lawson trailed at different points throughout. Cardenas took a 3-0 lead in the first set, but Lawson rallied to a 7-5 win in the first set.

In the second set, Cardenas tied at six to force a tiebreaker. Lawson was previously ahead 6-5.

“I was just trying to survive and get a win for my team,” Lawson said. “I knew the girl next to me had lost and the other girl next to me was having a hard time. I had no idea how two of the other girls were doing too so I was trying to do the most for my time.”

Lawson did survive, winning the second game 7-6. The game took such a toll that Lawson didn’t realize immediately after that it was her 100th game.

Somewhere in the 1,082 miles from Houston to Chicago, Lawson was in her airplane seat when she realized it was her big win. She sat up and looked to her right and left. She then tapped her teammate, telling her what she had accomplished.

“In terms of wins and losses, what (Lawson) has done is amazing,” DePaul women’s tennis head coach Mark Ardizzone said. “What I love most about Kelsey is that she never has backed down from anything. She does more individual work than anyone. In her four years, I don’t think there’s any other player that I’ve spent more time with than Kelsey.”

When he recruited her out of high school from Tempe, Ariz., Ardizzone was unsure that Lawson could develop beyond the raw power that he was bringing to DePaul. Not everyone viewed her as a college-level tennis player, he said.

Lawson improved dramatically through the course of her freshman year to now. She went 27-15 as a freshman, 21-15 during her sophomore year and 28-11 last year. Her record this year is 25-9.

“She has been a great leader,” Ardizzone said. “The phrase ‘walk tall with a big stick’ is something I would say describes Kelsey. She’s not a big talker, but it’s by her actions. She’s not scared and has been in all these big moments. She’s done a great job.”

Lawson joined Nives Milosevic and Klara Salopek as the only other players in DePaul history to reach at least 100 wins. Milosevic leads DePaul with 105 wins while Salopek is second with 102.

Lawson has a chance to break the record. She is at 101 wins and will get at least four more games with a game against Marquette and the Big East championship. She can break it if the team reaches the NCAA tournament.

“I’m trying to catch up to the top,” Lawson said.