Athlete of the Year

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Athlete of the Year

Erin Ditmar - The Bucknellian

Erin Ditmar - The Bucknellian

Erin Ditmar - The Bucknellian

Doug Hendry, Managing Editor

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There are few athletes that can dominate week in and week out on the court at a high level while trying to balance their athletic schedule with their academics. However, men’s tennis player Nick Bybel ’16 has found his own place on the court, where he has excelled tremendously over his three-year career. With the Patriot League Championships concluding last week, where the men’s tennis team fell in the semifinals against undefeated Army after upsetting Colgate 4-0 in the round before, Bybel wrapped up the best performance in a season that the program has ever witnessed, proving why many believe he deserves the Athlete of the Year award.

After recording two wins against the top players from Colgate and Army, Bybel finished with a 38-3 record during the fall and spring semesters of his junior year, which includes his current 21-match winning streak. Even with his senior campaign still to come, he already holds the record for most singles victories in a single season (38) and in a career (86). His success during his past three years at the University, and especially this past season, comes as no surprise to Bybel, his teammates, or his coach, who have seen him shine since day one as a freshman and grow even more as time went on.

“Nick from day one has been totally committed on and off the court to getting better each and every day,”  head coach Craig Schwartz said. “His work ethic while at practice separates him from the rest and naturally makes him someone to look up to.”

Having already committed to playing professionally for at least two years after graduation starting in Europe, Bybel realizes how it is simply not possible to go through the motions every day if he wants to reach his full potential, and the motivation he has pushes him to put in that extra time and effort outside of his daily routine to help separate himself from his competitors.

“We have practice hours set out where you are in the gym three, maybe four, days per week,” Bybel said. “Then, you’re in practice five days a week. But it’s also about the extra hours that you put in. You can be a good athlete by following all of the right things, but by you going out there and doing extra work, that is what really sets you apart from other people. I feel that this year, compared to anything, I brought into our system 100 percent in the weight room, with conditioning, with our coach, and put in that extra work to help me reach those accomplishments this year.”

With that extra commitment, very few players have been able to compete with Nick in either singles or doubles play. In his career, he is 86-21 in singles, 62-28 in doubles (28-6 this season), and was a First-Team All-Patriot League honoree and Patriot League Rookie of the Year his freshman year. In his sophomore campaign, he earned the Patriot League Player of the Year award, and there’s a good chance he is lined up to take that award home again this year. Bybel knows that his teammates have been just as important along the way as the work that he has put in himself. They’ve become much more than just teammates for him, and another end of a season brings another farewell.

“Every year it gets harder and harder to say goodbye to some of your teammates,” Bybel said. “Especially this year, my fellow captain (Octavio Canibe ’15) is a senior and is going to graduate this year, and it’s pretty hard because he’s been one of my best friends since freshman year. Being able to be with this team, we are pretty much a family, and we can hold each other accountable for our actions. Being able to compete with these guys day in and day out is a lot of fun.”

As a co-captain of this nine-member team, Bybel leads a young unit, and rises and falls with the accomplishments of the team. Having to mentor a group of athletes that look up to you while perfecting your own game is a big task, one that Bybel takes in stride. With five freshmen in this year’s class, Bybel’s ability to work with the incoming athletes directly affected the success of the team as a whole and its future prospects.

“From day one, Nick has opened up his world to all the younger players on the team,” Schwartz said. “He is always available to whatever needs they may have.  Along with his ability, his attitude is why the younger players look up to him. He has no arrogance towards anyone, even with all the success he has had. You can’t teach that as a coach, you can only hope to continue to build off of that with the rest of the team. The sky is the limit for Nick individually and for the team under his captaincy.”

It’s been a long process to reach that captaincy for Bybel, who started playing tennis back with his sisters at the court in his backyard. Wanting to follow along with them, he hit around as much as he could, and he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play at a great academic school and strong program.

And there’s no doubt that he’s earned that captaincy. At the beginning of this year’s fall season, Bybel ranked No. 114 in the first Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Men’s National Singles Rankings, an accomplishment that shows just how far he had come after just two years in the program. That ranking has brought with it pivotal matches that he has gone through: a perfect 7-0 record in singles matches during Patriot League play this spring season, the ITA All-American Championships for the past two years, and some matches that have stretched him to the deepest of his abilities on the court.

But his most memorable match? That goes way back to freshman year.

“My most memorable match would probably be from my freshman year,” Bybel said. “We upset Lehigh, who was seeded number two in the conference, and we beat them 4-3 in the regular season to become the third seed in the Patriot League Tournament. That match was a battle–it came down to the last match, lasted [over four] hours, and it was just an awesome experience to be a part of that team.”

We’ve seen the accomplishments and feats that are rarely seen from an individual on the tennis court, but Bybel won’t be the first one to openly talk about them to you. He is known for his humility off the court just as much as he is for his abilities on the court. His individual success comes only after the success of the team, as he demonstrates what University athletics should be about.

Having already gone through the experience of being a captain, Bybel will be prepared to lead the men’s tennis team into competition next season. He’s gone through the process of learning the personalities of each member on the team, a much taller task than it sounds, and this has allowed him to be an effective leader who can earn the respect of his teammates. As the team prepares for the 2015-16 season–after final exams, of course–eight of the nine members will be returning to the program to compete in individual tournaments in the fall and team scoring in the spring. Still, there’s no real offseason during the offseason.

“Going into next season, I’ll be going back down to Hilton Head, I’ll go through some offseason training at Van Der Meer Tennis Academy where I went to for high school, and will come back next year ready to go. Hopefully I’ll be able to have the same season as I just did,” Bybel said.

But at this exact moment? Bybel is just looking forward to taking a little time off after last weekend’s Patriot League Championships.

“Right now, I’m just going to take a nice vacation, because I desperately need it,” Bybel said.

And he certainly deserves the break. 

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