Hankle evolving into leadership role
After concluding matches with the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday at the Boardman Tennis Center, junior Lauren Hankle was teaching freshman Marta Burak how to pitch a baseball using a tennis ball.
“Don’t throw it high,” Lauren said to Burak on the court. “You’re pitching overhand, so you want to throw it lower.”
Burak said, with a laugh, that Hankle didn’t do a great job.
“She plays football better,” Burak said. “She’s good at football and basketball.”
Along with teaching Burak, the Ukraine native, American sports like baseball, she is also trying to lead the Youngstown State University women’s tennis team.
Hankle is the oldest player on the team. The rest of the team consists of two freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors, including Hankle.
Hankle is only a junior because she was redshirted last year and has one year left to compete.
She was redshirted after she tore her labrum during her sophomore season early on, despite finishing out the year.
Hankle, an exercise science major, has dealt with injuries before while playing at YSU. She also had three wrist surgeries, all on her right wrist, during her time at Hempfield High School in Lancaster, Pa.
One reason she chose YSU was because it offers a physical therapy program.
“Thought the girls were great,” Hankle said. “When you’re on a tennis team, you want to be with girls that you like, so that was the big reason why I came here.”
She said her proudest moment came during her freshman season at YSU in the Horizon League tournament. She earned two victories against Cleveland State University and Butler University in the No. 2 singles.
Hankle was the determining factor in the quarterfinals and won to advance YSU in the semifinals in which she lost.
“We played in the third-place match,” Hankle said. “It came down to my match again, and I won the match for us to get third place in the conference, which we had a lot of freshmen that year. Now I’m hoping to be better than that next year.”
Hankle is still trying to recover from her recent surgery. First-year men’s tennis coach Mark Klysner said he doesn’t see any problems with her shoulder.
“So far, if you’d ask me at the beginning of the season, I thought for sure it would be a lot worse,” Klysner said. “I really haven’t heard anything out of her. She seems to be doing very well when she gets treated from time to time, but I don’t see any injuries with that.”
While recovering, Hankle is also attempting to evolve into a veteran leader for the Penguins. She said the biggest problem she is trying to correct is staying positive.
“I’m trying to get better, with the help of the coaches, at staying positive and pumping them up because when I get hard on myself, it affects them as well,” Hankle said. “When they see I’m confident, it helps them stay confident. I’m just trying to be a leader as much as I can.”
Klysner said every player is different when it comes to leading a team. With that being said, Klysner said he believes that Hankle’s ability to never quit is what makes her a leader.
“She focuses a lot on her match, which can be misconstrued because you can look at it as not supporting the other girls,” he said. “In actuality, she is supporting the other girls, but she’s somewhat fired up on the court.”
Burak said she sees Hankle as a leader because she helps and is supportive of her.
“How can I describe her?” Burak asked herself.
“Only good things,” Hankle shouted as she sat behind Burak.
“Ah, she’s a good teammate,” Burak said. “What can I say? She supports us all the time, and she’s a good player.”
Burak then glanced over at Hankle, who was grinning back at her.
“What? I’m just saying,” Burak said to Hankle.
Klysner said the team needs Hankle and her leadership in order to perform well next year.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a team with a shot next year, and Lauren’s going to be a big part of that,” Klysner said.