There’s no question that football is the largest sport at Penn State. Students wake up early over summer break to log on and buy season tickets before they sell out in a moment, and they camp out outside Beaver Stadium for a chance at front row seats.
But even though football can cast a large shadow over the smaller sports, the men’s tennis team has no issue with football’s dominant presence.
For smaller sports like men’s tennis, there’s nowhere near as much excitement and anticipation. News about schedules and scores get lost in the wave of football hype.
It’s inherently difficult for the men’s tennis team to draw large audiences. Tournaments take place across the country with limited ways for fans to get live updates on the action. When the Nittany Lions are home, they often compete against their opponents indoors so attendance is limited.
While it seems like the odds are stacked against the team, coach Jeff Zinn remains positive.
He recalls fond memories from last season when the team got the chance to host its opponent on the outdoor courts.
“We have such good crowds,” Zinn said. “We had 500 people out. We had a barbeque out here, hot dogs, hamburgers and had the Creamery ice cream.”
When the weather is warm and the team is able to play outside, matches can draw this type of crowd. People walking by want to know what’s going on and wind up staying to watch the players compete.
But with a good chunk of the schedule taking place during colder months, these events are exceptions rather than the norm.
Even with spotty attendance, Zinn maintains that the team is in as good a place as ever.
“The administration is great at not making you feel like you’re underappreciated,” Zinn said. “If anything, they go overboard to make us feel appreciated.”
Zinn is in his sixth season at Penn State, so he is well-aware of how things operate.
“We all know as coaches that football drives the engine, and it should drive the engine,” Zinn said.
A successful football team is the first step toward prosperity for the smaller sports at the university. Disbursement of funds is dependent on how football performs. The recent achievements reached by the football team have been beneficial for the entire athletic program.
More importantly, the athletes from other teams enjoy the success of Penn State’s main attraction.
While it wouldn’t seem outrageous for some of the tennis players to feel slighted by the attention that football gets, that simply isn’t the case. The players love the fact that the student population is so proud and supportive of athletics, Zinn said.
Junior Christian Lakoseljac came to Penn State from Canada, and he feels the atmosphere is unlike anywhere else.
“I love everything here,” Lakoseljac said. “At home, there’s no school spirit.”
Lakoseljac admires how dedicated the Penn State fans are no matter what sport they’re rooting for.
Freshman Jordan Nickerson shared his teammate’s sentiment. In his short time here at Penn State he’s already encountered plenty of passionate fans. Nickerson believes he and his teammates get the respect they deserve as student-athletes.
“I think we get a lot of love,” Nickerson said.
With Cook’s family in Missouri, finding time to be with her family is tough
Zinn thinks having a high-profile football program is what attracts many of his players to the university. The coaches show off the community’s excitement for big football games and encourage recruits to be a part of the family.
“I think they want to come to where the whole student body is so into football,” Zinn said. “They want to be a part of a successful football program, so we try to use it as a positive.”
The feeling of camaraderie is something many students point to as the top reason for choosing Penn State, and student-athletes who participate in smaller sports are no different.
“Kids do want to come where they can celebrate with the regular students and non-student-athletes and feel good about it,” Zinn said.
With the help of football, Zinn expects his team to continue to grow. He believes that if things continue trending upward, people will pay more attention to the program.
“If you’re winning and winning at a high level, people will come,” Zinn said. “That’s the exposure we need.”