With only five athletes on the tennis squad at the beginning of the second semester, Coach Jeff Guthmiller needed to find a sixth member to join the team in order to fulfill roster requirements to compete in the NAIA.
With the season on the line, Guthmiller needed to search within the campus to find another athlete who possessed the skills required to play tennis at the collegiate level.
He found one in senior Mallory Cunard.
Cunard had played only basketball all four years at Northwestern. She finished her career as a four-year letter winner and three-time national champion. She excelled at shooting and hit 40 percent of her three-point attempts in her career.
She took a tennis activity class last fall that made an impression on men’s basketball head coach Kris Korver, who taught the class.
“(Korver) talked to Coach Guthmiller about me,” Cunard said. “Then Coach Guthmiller contacted me about the possibility of playing because of the needed numbers.”
With only three practices under her belt because of another long postseason run by the Raider basketball team, Cunard won her first ever collegiate match on March 23 against Martin Luther College.
In a 9-0 team win for the Raiders, Cunard picked up a 6-4, 6-3 singles victory as the No. 6 for NW.
“I was very intimidated with having such a short time to prepare,” Cunard said. “I really did not know what to expect, but I was happy with the results.”
Cunard, who had never played tennis competitively in her life outside of recreation in high school with her friends, proved to be a natural fit with the sport.
“Mallory is very athletic, and she moves very well. Those strengths really help in tennis,” Guthmiller said. “It is not a sport learned overnight, but she is definitely picking up the game very quickly.”
Her doubts of being accepted as a true member of the team for being a late-season walk-on were thrown out the window as soon as she joined.
“I really appreciate their patience with me as a new player and their willingness to help me improve,” Cunard said. “They are an awesome group of girls who I have a lot of fun hanging around with.”
After she realized how much she enjoyed the sport, Cunard said she wishes that she could have joined the team earlier in her collegiate career.
“I love the game of tennis, and it would be even more enjoyable if I had done it my whole life,” Cunard said. “It really has been a good experience for me so far, and I am very thankful for the opportunity.”
Cunard currently has a 1-1 record this season and looks to continue to hone on her skills during the conference stretch of the schedule.
“It is very safe to say that with her work ethic, competitive nature and athleticism, she is improving every day,” Guthmiller said. “Mallory is a competitor, and she works really hard. She brings a level of intensity that any team would welcome.”