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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Leo Vithoontien is Taking Carleton Tennis by Storm

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Leo Vithoontien ’21 was born into an athletic family. His parents and two older sisters played volleyball in high school. While his sisters continue to play volleyball in college, Vithoontien opted for the tennis path at Carleton. He was first introduced to the game of tennis by his parents, and he vividly remembers picking up a tennis racket and hitting the ball against the wall when he was young. Vithoontien was so engrossed that he did not realize that his parents were observing him. He shared, “When my parents saw that I was hitting the tennis ball consistently, they insisted I take tennis lessons. It was all by chance.”

Vithoontien has been playing tennis since he was seven years old, and over the course of his impressive high school tennis career, he has been the recipient of notable awards. Between grades eight and twelve, he won four MVP awards and twice the Sportsboy of the Year. What is even more impressive is that he made SEASAC Tennis (Southeast Asia Student Activities Conference) since grade five. He has also been number one for singles since grade eight in SEASAC. Regarding his current college ranking, Vithoontien is ranked number five for singles and doubles in the Central Region.

Vithoontien addressed the emotional and physical aspect of the game. In his opinion, the emotional aspect is often overlooked. He said, “Mentally it can be lonely when you train. It is even worse when one is going through a cold streak. The coach cannot come on the court to help. You have to handle the situation yourself.” As per the physicality, duration is a key factor. “At times, a tennis match can be two to three hours long. At Carleton, I train four days a week and each session is about one and a half hours which gets exhausting,” he explained. The training also emphasizes maintaining cardio, strength and conditioning.

A player of Vithoontien’s caliber should be potentially playing at the Division I level. He singled out three reasons for him not playing at a Division I school: international status, flying, and international ranking. He tried to get recruited by Division I colleges, but as an international student, there were limitations. All he could offer was a video for the coaches to judge and travel expenses were costly. Moreover, his international ranking regressed after grade ten since he was focused on the IB (International Baccalaureate) during the final two years of his high school. He recalled, “by the time I began my college admission process, my ranking on the ITF (International Tennis Federation) was not at the level of Division I colleges.” These were the underlying factors which possibly hindered his chances of getting offers from Division I colleges. Vithoontien’s last ranking on the ITF was 637 as of 2015. Regardless, Vithoontien is extremely delighted to represent Carleton College and is content with his tennis progress so far.

With his first year coming to a close, Vithoontien noticed changes between high school and college tennis. In particular, he noted, “Guys in college are much bigger, stronger, smarter, and the competition is much tougher as well.” Vithoontien described his style of play as “brains over heart.” He prefers to outsmart his opponents by exposing their weaknesses and staying on offense instead of defense. Being aggressive-minded is the key. Vithoontien even has a slight advantage because as a lefty, he can hit the tennis ball faster and stronger to the opponent’s backhand, which often is a weakness for most tennis players.

Overall, Vithoontien has enjoyed his first year tennis experience and gets along well with his teammates and coaches. Interestingly, he would consider going professional after college, but for now he is focused on taking things one step at a time.

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