Feb. 13, 2014
By Craig Chval ’15
Quinn Gleason looked over to the sideline, where a crowd of teammates, opponents and spectators had begun to gather in anticipation. With their presence, the sophomore tennis player realized the rest of the team’s matches were over, with Indiana and Notre Dame tied at three matches apiece.
Playing in a tiebreaker to 10 points for her own match, Gleason understood she would decide the team’s fate. And she was down 7-1.
“I’ve always been the most competitive person,” Gleason says. “I just love a competitive atmosphere. The pressure – I don’t know, I find it really fun.
“Something turned on – I just felt an energy boost. Just the whole atmosphere around me was really great. My team pulled me through that one.”
Gleason won the tiebreak 12-10, sealing the victory for the Irish. It was the second consecutive 4-3 win for Notre Dame – both decided in tiebreaks of matches in which Gleason played.
“I really do play better under pressure situations, it seems,” she says. “I really love that competitive atmosphere, and that’s why I love tennis because a lot of it’s individual. The pressure’s on you, and you have to show what you’re made of in certain points.”
Rather than viewing her performance in the clutch as an elevation of her normal game, Gleason’s coach, Jay Louderback, thinks she simply doesn’t suffer the same collapses as most other athletes.
“If you get into those pressure situations, and one person gets a little bit nervous and their game drops down just a little, they’re in trouble,” he explains. “And hers doesn’t. She’s solid the whole time.
“During those, she played great points, but she didn’t play above herself. She just played very, very good points under good situations. And that’s what she does.”
Keying her comeback in that tiebreak, an aggressive play style often serves Gleason well on the court. By playing strong at the net, the sophomore gains an upper hand over her more passive opponents. Louderback attributed her win in the Indiana match to, in part, her ability to serve and volley.
“And you don’t see that very often, especially in women’s tennis. But in men’s, even, you don’t see it very often,” he says. “Some kids aren’t going to do that. They’re going to sit back and wait. And she’s not afraid to be a little bit aggressive if she has to.
“She volleys really well, she has good hands and she has a good serve. So it’s a smart play because a lot of times in those types of situations, your opponent’s not going to be going for a really big return. They’re just going to be solid getting the ball back, and you have a good chance to come in and do something.”
If Gleason’s aggressive style of play is more evocative of the men’s game, it shouldn’t come as a surprise for those that know her. While growing up, the Mendon, N.Y., native often found herself competing with boys.
“When I was younger, I wanted to play all the sports. I played everything from soccer, basketball – I even played football when I was younger,” she remembers. “I was nose guard, actually. I loved the defense.
“I didn’t want to get tackled – I wanted to tackle people.”
Laughing at the thought of his tennis star’s previous athletic endeavors, Louderback knows Gleason well enough to be unsurprised by her tackling prowess. If he was at the helm of her Pop Warner team, though, he might have moved her off the defensive line.
“Yeah, well, that was a bad call by the coach,” he says. “I think Quinn would be a great safety because she’s going to see the whole field. She’s going to be able to make plays in the air.
“But also if someone’s running the ball and gets past the line, she’s going to run over him. She’s going to hit him.”
Luckily for Louderback and the Notre Dame tennis program, Gleason eventually chose to pursue tennis, blossoming into a blue-chip recruit.
“The boys got too big and it got a little bit more scary, so I had to switch gears,” she laughs. “I played baseball, and I loved that too. I was a pitcher, which I loved. I started to focus on tennis around seventh or eighth grade, and I started to play just solely tennis.”
Unsurprisingly, Gleason’s competitive nature helped drive her decision when she chose to narrow down her athletic undertakings.
“What really drew me to tennis was just the individual aspect of it and how it’s really how hard you can work,” she explains. “A lot of it relies on how much you want something and how hard you work.”
As the daughter of two Notre Dame Law School grads, Gleason always kept Louderback’s program as an option while exploring other schools. The recruiting process began her junior year of high school, and a year later she knew where she wanted to play at the collegiate level.
“I was one of those little kids running around in the Irish sweatshirts, and I came to games when I was younger and everything,” Gleason says. “But really when it came down to picking where I wanted to go to school, I kept my mind open. But when I visited here on my official visit, I just knew this is where I wanted to go.”
It may have influenced the decision that Gleason’s brother, Sean, was a Notre Dame freshman during her recruitment process. Just don’t ask her which way it tipped the scales.
“That’s a good question,” Gleason laughs. “Actually, I think it helped. It was really nice having him here freshman year just to know a little piece of home was here. And he always came to all my matches, which was nice.”
If Gleason needed any help adjusting to college, she hid it pretty well. At the end of the season, she was named to the All-BIG EAST team – one of just two freshmen. The accolades piled up by season’s end until she earned BIG EAST Academic All-Star status and the Notre Dame Monogram Club’s MVP award. In the No. 3 spot in the lineup, she finished the season with a team-best 25-8 singles record.
This season she has played in the second spot for Notre Dame and at 99th in the nation is the team’s highest ranked player by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. Along with senior partner Britney Sanders, Gleason comprises half of the nation’s 27th-ranked doubles team.
With all her success on the court, the 5’9 sophomore is most proud of her mental development this year because she knows that keeping her emotions in check can be the key to victory in a match. Louderback, especially, realizes that for Gleason to move to the No. 1 slot next year, she’ll have to face top competition each and every contest. With the heightened skill of opponents, the ability to stay levelheaded is crucial.
“She’s very, very tough on herself. She overdoes it sometimes where she really beats herself up, but she’s not doing it like she did as a freshman,” Louderback explains. “Hopefully she’s seeing that if she wants to play one for us before she graduates, it’s going to have to get better. And I think that’s one of the reasons she’s worked on it so hard. It’s much better.
“Every team is really good at one. When you’re playing one, the No. 1 player almost has to be like relief pitchers where you have short-term memory because every match is going to be really good. And you can play a top-20 kid every week, so it’s tough.”
Luckily for Gleason, she has some experience as a pitcher. But if her competitiveness hurts when she is too self-critical, it doesn’t harm her in other areas, especially as a teammate.
“She doesn’t have a big ego at all, and she’s just very easy to get along with,” Louderback raves. “And she will do whatever is asked of her for the team to win. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Constantly looking to improve, Gleason does, in fact, demand more from herself. And it’s exactly that mindset that allows her to excel on the court – even when she’s down 7-1.