CLAREMONT, Calif. - Senior Nicole Tan had the enviable experience of winning a national championship in 2018, as the CMS women's tennis team defeated Emory 5-4 on its home courts to take home the first NCAA Division III title in program history. She was hoping to duplicate that experience this spring, with CMS standing at 14-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation when the spring season was abruptly cut short in mid-March.
Despite the heartbreak of losing her senior season, Tan will graduate from Claremont McKenna with an impressive list of accomplishments, beginning with the national championship ring. Individually, she was a five-time All-American (three times in doubles, twice in singles) and earned the Division III Rookie of the Year Award from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association as a first-year. Twice she reached the Division III national championship match in doubles, including a year ago, when it was an All-CMS final before Catherine Allen and Caroline Cox prevailed over Tan and Sarah Bahsoun in three sets.
In addition to the tennis accolades, Tan captured a prestigious honor when she was named a CoSIDA Division III Academic All-American, an award which combines athletic and academic achievements. Tan balanced the rigors of playing national championship-level tennis with an equally rigorous lab science curriculum as a neuroscience major, carrying over a 3.8 cumulative GPA, and recently earned admission into medical school at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, a graduate medical school set up by Duke University School of Medicine and National University of Singapore (NUS).
We asked Tan a few questions about her experience as a CMS student-athlete below. (Note: The CMS-ence features have been built around video question and answer profiles for the last two years, but due to the spring sport student-athletes finishing their academic careers off campus, we are adjusting to a written Q&A format instead).
Q: What does it take to be a successful collegiate tennis player?
Tan: Tennis is said to be 90% mental and 10% physical. At the level of competitive college tennis, there is often not a huge difference between the physical skill sets of two players, and so one's mental game can be the difference between a win and a loss, or between a good and a great player. In high pressure situations, mental toughness helps you stay focused, calm, disciplined and courageous enough to execute the shots and tactical plays, while battling any internal or external distractions. This combination of mental and physical challenges is what makes tennis so exciting.
Q: How exciting was it to be able to win an NCAA Championship, especially on your home court?
Tan: Winning nationals on our home courts was definitely one of the best moments of my tennis and college career. We played one of our toughest rivals whom we had lost to in the regular season, but we didn't let the previous loss affect us. We went out there with the right belief and mindset and played our hearts out. It was absolutely surreal that we were able to finish with a win at home in front of our friends and family. We wouldn't have been able to do it without the hard work of every Athena. I'm so excited for what's in store for the future Athenas because I know they will do amazing.
Q: What is the topic of your senior thesis?
Tan: My senior lab thesis is on the biomechanics and neural control of movement. Specifically, I am investigating how the presence of a cognitive task impacts the muscle activity and biomechanics of forward and backward walking. This topic combines my interest in both neuroscience and physiology, and it can have implications on both a mechanistic and broader level. It can not provide insight on neurorehabilitation strategies to improve locomotor functions of patients with neurodegenerative diseases (ex. Parkinson's), but it could also help us navigate the complex world filled with multiple distractions.
Q: What else have you been involved in on campus besides tennis?
Tan: I am involved in the Asian Pacific American Mentoring program (APAM). APAM is a CMC organization that provides support for first year and transfer students who identify as APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American). APAM has a big part of my college experience because I was able to meet some of my closest friends that have been with me since freshman year. As an upperclassman and APAM mentor, I was able to pay forward and help new students who may feel left out find their place and adjust to the new campus, while making new friendships and fostering a close-knit APIDA community on campus.
Q:What has being an Athena meant to you?
Tan: No words can fully express how much being an Athena means to me. I've forged some of the most special and strongest friendships with my teammates, and shared so many amazing memories with them. I've grown so much as a person, player, and student with the Athenas and I cannot imagine college life without them because every one of them played a huge role in making my college experience so special. I am so glad to have met this amazing group of people, and I am honored to have been an Athena for the past 4 years. Although this was not the end that any of us imagined, the memories that we've built will be with me forever and I am beyond proud of everything that we have accomplished together. Thank you CMS for the past 4 years. Once an Athena, always an Athena!