March 6, 2006
Santa Clara, Calif. - Michelle Luxton never envisioned herself as a two-sport athlete at Santa Clara University when she first decided to attend the South Bay institution. Entering college, volleyball had been her first priority and during her first year as a Bronco this past fall, she was a valuable member off the bench as her team advanced to the program's first-ever Final Four in San Antonio, Texas.
However, tennis was her sport of choice growing up on the islands of Hawai'i and after spending the entire winter break playing with her family, Luxton came back to the Bay Area wondering if she could pull off both sports at the collegiate level, despite the fact that she hadn't competed at a competitive level since she was a sophomore in high school.
The notion of becoming a two-sport athlete weighed heavily on Luxton's mind, though she did not tell anyone of her idea, mainly because she was worried about volleyball head coach Jon Wallace's reaction. Luckily for her, it was actually Wallace who approached Luxton about joining the tennis team this spring. Wallace had learned that the tennis team had problems with their depth due to some injuries, and he talked with head coach Damon Coupe about the possibility of having Luxton join the squad. Coupe agreed to entertain the proposal, given that during a match earlier this season, the Broncos were reduced to only five available players.
"The two of them actually came over to my office and we started talking. I asked her some questions that a good player should know and she answered them. We went out and hit balls the next day and she was good enough," said Coupe about his first meeting with Luxton. "She hadn't played in awhile because she obviously was focusing on volleyball, so she's still really rough around the edges, but there is a lot of potential with her game."
Although Luxton had the green light from Coupe, the next hurdle to tackle was to get the approval from the other girls on the tennis team. Coupe consulted with his squad and got their input regarding the likelihood of adding another player midway through the season.
"I asked my entire team and got their opinion on it. She actually had to go through about four days of a trial with them, hanging out with the team before we made the ultimate decision to put her on the roster," noted Coupe on the process of getting Luxton on the team. "We didn't want to add someone just to add someone. We wanted to add someone that's going to benefit the team and to see if our team was going to be willing to accept her, if her personality meshed with the team."
"I was nervous because I put myself in that position, like if someone were to join the volleyball team during the middle of our season after we had worked really hard in preseason," revealed Luxton. "I was really nervous, but the girls were really cool with it. Damon talked to me about it and he said the most important thing was for me to mesh with the team and I think that it is going really well."
With the support of the entire Santa Clara tennis team behind her, Luxton fully immersed herself into becoming a better tennis player and despite her lack of competitive experience on the tennis court over the past few years, she has the necessary tools to be a solid contributor to the team according to Coupe. Her athleticism and foot speed are her main strengths, allowing her to get to balls that most players would not be able to in rallies. In addition, a blazing backhand and a hard-struck first serve have proven to be weapons at her disposal. Wallace also believes that aside from her obvious physical gifts, Luxton's competitiveness will serve her well in her second sport. Her enthusiasm and love for the game has been a positive influence on the team.
"You can definitely hear her during matches or practice on the sidelines cheering on her teammates. Our whole team has a positive attitude, but she's helping to enhance that and has really made an effort to become apart of the team right away," praised Coupe.
Although Luxton has been concentrating on tennis the past few weeks, her passion for volleyball still hasn't left her. Wallace mandates that she continue to fulfill her individual workouts with the coaches to keep up her volleyball skills and cautions that this is a key period for her volleyball growth.
"For Michelle, it's an important spring. We will need a defensive specialist or two to step up and that could be her spot," stated Wallace. "She needs to continue to play volleyball on the side and get better. If she does that, she'll be fine."
While most coaches are unwilling to share their athletes with another team, Wallace values his player's happiness above all else.
"For me, whatever is going to make her happy is the most important thing. This makes her happy," explained Wallace on his willingness to share Luxton with the tennis team.
Luxton is definitely happy and excited to be given the opportunity to play both tennis and volleyball at Santa Clara, but it can be a bit hectic at times. Per NCAA rules, a student-athlete is only allowed to practice a maximum of 20 hours a week and so between team practices with the tennis team and individual workouts with the volleyball coaches, she must carefully plan out her week to ensure she comply with the standards set forth by the NCAA.
Once the tennis season ends in May, Luxton will go back to being a full-time volleyball player, though she will continue to sharpen her tennis skills on the side. The idea of being a two-sport athlete for the next three years isn't out of the realm of possibility, however, as she would like the chance to do so, given that she received the approval from her two coaches.
"If Damon and Jon are willing to see me through it, I would love to continue to play both sports," exclaimed Luxton. "I miss playing tennis and it's just so much fun to be out there."