Sophie Whittle, Gonzaga
Brian Ormiston | October 25, 2018
The fall collegiate season always produces some surprising results around the nation. One of this year’s memorable moments came from Gonzaga University’s Sophie Whittle.
Born in Santa Maria, Calif., Whittle grew up in nearby Nipomo in a tennis family. Her mother, Kristi, competed for Loyola Marymount; her brother, Eli, was a four-year member of the UC Davis program through 2017. For Sophie, she decided to travel outside the Golden State for her college career, thanks to a strong bond with head coach D.J. Gurule and the Gonzaga campus in Spokane, Wash.
Whittle has evolved into a two-time All-West Coast Conference First Team member, and also was an ITA Scholar Athlete in 2018. After her junior campaign last season, she competed in five USTA Pro Circuit events, highlighted by earning 15 doubles points at the $60,000 event in Templeton, Calif., to claim her first WTA doubles ranking.
Just a couple of weeks after that performance, she traveled to Malibu, Calif., to compete in qualifying for the Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships. ADVERTISEMENT With a difficult road ahead of her, she managed to win eight singles matches in six days (Oct. 2-7) to claim the first ITA title in Gonzaga’s history. Along the way, she defeated a pair of WTA-ranked players, including Duke’s Maria Mateas, who was recently ranked in the top 300, in the final.
After her victory, USTA.com spoke with Whittle about her triumph and her time as a Gonzaga Bulldog.
USTA.com: Given you family’s history of playing college tennis in California, what was your recruiting process like and how did Gonzaga come into the picture?
Sophie Whittle: Originally I was only looking at schools in California, but I decided to come on a visit to Gonzaga to see a campus a little further from home. [The coaching staff] came and watched me play a couple of tournaments in Southern California, and we ended up setting up an official visit in the fall of my senior year. Gonzaga was my last official visit, and I am really glad because I saved the best for last. Gonzaga instantly felt like home; the coaches want you to develop as a person, student and athlete, and I felt like the environment that they created was going to put me in a place to be as successful as possible. Gonzaga has a family-like bond and a sense of support that I haven't seen before at a university.
USTA.com: What was the best part and hardest part about the recruiting process?
Sophie Whittle: With not being a very highly ranked junior, it was difficult for me to get in contact with some coaches because they overlooked me, as I was only a four-star recruit and had average results. The coaches at Gonzaga noticed my work ethic and took a chance on me and pushed me to work harder than I thought I could. That has helped me grow and develop into the player that I am today. I am so lucky that they believed in me, because I could not imagine being anywhere other than this university.
USTA.com: What are you currently studying? What have been your favorite classes?
Sophie Whittle: I am currently studying to get my degree in kinesiology with a concentration as a fitness specialist. Along with that, I am taking prerequisites toward nursing, and am also doing an internship this fall at Deliberate Strength in Spokane. My favorite classes that I have taken are exercise physiology and ergonomics.
USTA.com: How would you compare your game and mindset now to your freshman season?
Sophie Whittle: As a freshman, you have a lot of learning and maturing to do, and I feel like the mistakes that I have made along my journey have helped shape me into who I am. I have always been a hard worker, but my mentality is what used to get the best of me. Although there are still times I struggle with things, I felt like my mentality at All-Americans is what got me through. I was focused throughout the whole tournament, taking it one point at a time, and I am hoping to keep that focus for the upcoming year and season.
USTA.com: Describe what it is like to be a part of the Gonzaga program?
Sophie Whittle: Being a part of the Gonzaga program is a blessing. I have formed so many close relationships with my teammates, coaches and fellow peers, and I know that I will continue to grow these relationships throughout my life. At Gonzaga, I am able to represent my university and continue to play the sport that I love. Everyone at Gonzaga wants you to get better and grow as a person, and I have been lucky enough to spend all of my college experience at this university. I can say without a doubt in my mind that it was the best decision I ever made, coming here to Gonzaga.
USTA.com: How were you feeling going into the ITA All-Americans?
Sophie Whittle: I went into the tournament confident with the work that I put in. I had my teammates, coaches and trainers to look to and to keep challenging us to get better. After having been [at All-Americans] last year, playing in the pre-qualifying draw, I felt more confident going into this year having been there before. I went into the tournament not having expectations for myself; I wanted to just try my hardest and leave it all on the court. I could not have accomplished winning this tournament without my team and coaches pushing me every day. I am so happy I was able to represent my university.
USTA.com: What was it like having to play eight matches in a span of six days?
Sophie Whittle: Playing eight matches in six days was tough, but I relied on my fitness to keep me going. I ice bathed every night and made sure I stretched a lot before and after my matches to keep my body fresh for every day and each match I played. Having my teammate Grace [Rosas] and my coach D.J. there made all the difference. Being able to have them there to support me and have them to look to when I was struggling helped tremendously. Once I was there playing, I focused on each point and didn't look ahead. I had tunnel vision.
(Photo credit: Kyle Scholzen/Gonzaga University)