The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference recently offered Seymour’s Karen Dringenburg an opportunity she couldn’t pass up — a chance to travel, play tennis and pass on her love of that sport to others.
The Franklin College freshman spent the first nine days of January in Costa Rica, refining her skills against some of that country’s best players and teaching youth the sport she’s played for years.
Dringenburg was a participant in a program called Beyond Sport, in which she played tennis against Costa Ricans in her age group. She also taught tennis to kids aged five to 10. Beyond Sport promotes programs that are using sports for positive social change around the world.
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The 2015 Seymour High School grad earned the trip after being named conference freshman of the year and selected to the all-conference team. She was picked for the Beyond Sport program by conference coaches.
Dringenburg said being picked for the program was an honor, because not that many people were selected to go.
“There was only one other guy from my college, and Indiana, who plays No. 1 doubles,” she said. The rest of the participants in the program come from across the country.
For most of her stay, Dringenburg stayed in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.
In the first few days, the Americans played among one another to determine each player’s skill level and that set the lineup for playing the tennis players from Costa Rica.
Dringenburg said the Costa Ricans were very competitive, and her opponents helped her own game grow.
She said she knows she improved her ground strokes, which is something she struggled with during the season.
“They taught us different styles to play — like serving and volleying,” Dringenburg said. “I played a bunch of different opponents, like one who was a power hitter. We also got to play a lot of mixed doubles which was lot of fun.”
She said many of the Costa Rica players were good, and a lot of them had played since they were five.
One of her opponents was 23 and had been playing for 18 years. That player had coached a national champion, Dringenburg said.
As the only freshman in the group from the states, Dringenburg said she felt intimidated at first.
“It kind of scared me at the beginning,” Dringenburg said. “I think I would like to go back as one of the older players. The older players kind of helped me through everything on the trip. I think I would have a different perspective.”
She said she formed a bond with everyone there.
“We all became one big family by the end of the trip,” Dringenburg said. “It helped me to also learn how to better teach kids.”
This spring, the Franklin women’s tennis team will play between six and seven matches.
In her first season, Dringenburg had to adjust to the grind of college tennis because she plays a doubles match and a singles match against each team the Grizzlies meet.
“I had to learn to have more endurance,” she said.
Dringenburg said she wasn’t really sure what to expect, but she gained a lot of experience playing at No. 3 singles.
“My doubles partner had a lot of experience and we played really well together,” she said.
When she was an Owl, Dringenburg stayed involved in tennis year round including serving as manager for the boys’ squad. She plans to do the same at Franklin.
“I really liked doing it in high school, and I like hitting with the guys,” she said. “That should be a lot of fun.”
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