Sam Sweeney’s college tennis career started by taking him to Chicago and East Lansing, Michigan.
The place where it ended – North Central College in Naperville – took him to places well beyond his imagination.
“I was a late bloomer,” said Sweeney, a Prairie Ridge graduate. “I had no intentions of playing pro. I just kept trying to get better because I loved it.”
Sweeney’s desire to improve took him to a pro career, three decorated seasons at North Central and, last weekend, a spot in the Naperville school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“North Central really instilled a balance,” said Sweeney, who started his career at UIC and also attended Michigan State. “I felt good as a person. I trained really hard. I studied really hard.”
While achieving a biology degree, Sweeney’s career took off. The 2011 NCC grad won the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Player of the Year honor three times and won the league’s No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles titles all three years on campus. He finished with a 64-8 singles record and a 50-13 record in doubles.
He spent time on the ATP Futures and Challengers circuits, where he was ranked as high as 1,045th in the world in doubles. That took him to within two matches of qualifying for the U.S. Open.
“I had given it all I’ve got,” said Sweeney, who also worked for tennis legend Nick Bollettieri at his Florida training facility. “I still play and I teach, and I love it.
Sweeney moved back to Crystal Lake in 2016 with his wife, Kellirose. They now have a 10-month-old son, Noah.
Sweeney recently completed a master’s degree in counseling and is pursuing a career as a high school counselor. He was a volunteer coach last season at Barrington High School, where he worked as a counseling intern. He also gives private tennis lessons.
Sweeney, his father, Jack, and his wife all still play in the annual McHenry County Classic.
At last weekend’s Hall of Fame ceremony, he was introduced in a video by his father, who played an integral role in his development.
“I learned how to play by hitting with my dad,” he said.
Sweeney also credited two friends from high school, Ben and Gabe Youel, with guiding him to NCC. The Youel brothers were nationally ranked wrestlers for the Cardinals and encouraged Sweeney to join them.
“They really sold me,” he said. “I discovered, by going to North Central, that small atmosphere and that support … and being on a tight-knit team.”
American Rivers excellence: Division III Loras College sophomore women’s soccer athlete Braylin Mensik (Dundee-Crown) was honored Monday as the American Rivers Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
Mensik helped the Duhawks (7-3) to a pair of shutout victories last week against Wisconsin-Platteville (3-0) and Coe (4-0). She is part of a defense that is allowing 1.1 goals and only 11.9 shots a game.
Hitting paydirt for Duke: Jacobs grad Chris Katrenick scored his first career rushing touchdown last week for Duke’s football team in a 45-10 win against Virginia Tech.
Katrenick, a redshirt sophomore quarterback, entered the game in the fourth quarter and played the final five minutes. He is the primary backup to senior starter Quentin Harris.
Last season, Katrenick threw the first TD pass of his career in a victory against North Carolina Central.
Doak powers Augie: Sophomore setter Olivia Doak (Crystal Lake Central) is leading D-III Augustana College’s volleyball team with 7.29 assists a set this season.
Doak, who ranks fourth in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, is averaging 9.26 assist a set over the past seven matches for the Vikings (8-10). She posted a season-high 46 assists Sept. 20 in a five-set win at Cornell College.
Golden arm at Culver-Stockton: Starting quarterback Korbin Marcum threw 46 passes last week in a 27-7 NAIA football loss to No. 2 ranked Benedictine (Kan.) College.
Perhaps the most memorable pass of the game, however, was by the team’s starting left tackle.
McHenry West grad Andrew Rupcich had a 44-yard completion on a double-pass play to set up the Wildcats on the 1-yard line for their only touchdown. The pass was the longest completion of the night for Culver-Stockton (2-3).
As a sophomore, Rupcich earned first-team All-North Division honors in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. He was Culver-Stockton’s first offensive player since 2007 to be named first-team all-conference.
Schwallie reaches digs milestone: D-III Ohio Wesleyan junior libero Meghan Schwallie (Marian Central) became the 12th player in school history to achieve 1,000 career digs last week.
Schwallie surpassed the mark Sept. 27 with 11 digs in a 3-0 win against Wooster.
While ranking seventh in the North Coast Athletic Conference with 4.28 digs a set, Schwallie has achieved double-digit digs in all but one match this season for OWU (5-12).
Her season-high 24 digs came Sept. 24 in a four-set loss to John Carroll.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.