Nov. 5, 2010
Notre Dame senior women’s tennis player Kristen Rafael has had a strong fall, going 6-1 in singles and 2-1 in doubles in her final fall campaign. Last season, as a junior, the Grand Prairie, Texas native was 14-13, splitting time between No. 5 and No. 6 singles, helping the Irish to a 26-4 overall record and a trip to the NCAA Final Four. This weekend (Nov. 5-7), Rafael and her teammates will be in action at the Illinois Blast Tournament at Champaign, Ill. Earlier this week, und.com’s Vicky Jacobsen had a chance to sit down and talk with Kristen about tennis and her career at Notre Dame.
When did you first start playing tennis, and what drew you to the sport? I started playing tennis when I was seven. My brother played and I always tagged along to his practices. He would always find a way to hit me with the ball, so I decided to start playing with one goal–to beat him. It is still my goal to this day because he doesn’t play anymore and refuses my challenges.
Why did you choose to attend Notre Dame? I chose Notre Dame because it had the perfect balance of everything important to my development as a person and player. It has such a high level of spirituality, academics and athletics. Plus, you can’t beat the tradition and the Notre Dame family!
Do you have a favorite tennis player? My favorite player is Jay Louderback. I want his volleys.
What is your favorite tournament, either to play in or watch? My favorite tournament is the NCAAs. You can’t beat the atmosphere of every team fighting for a National Championship.
What is the coolest part about being a varsity athlete? The coolest part about being a varsity athlete at Notre Dame is Issue gear!! Seriously, my team is the most amazing group of girls I could ever ask for and I have the best coaches. We are truly a family.
What is the hardest part about being a varsity athlete? The hardest part of being a varsity athlete is being able to balance the pressures outside of tennis and letting them go once you step on the court.
What is your favorite sport besides tennis? Boxing is tied with soccer for my 2nd favorite sport. For the record, Manny Pacquiao would KO Mayweather.
What are your plans for after graduation? After I gradudate, I am hoping to go to law school. I would love to stay here for that so I could sneak in and guest-run conditioning for my team!
What accomplishment are you most proud of? My proudest moment came sophomore year, when we were playing against Stanford in the quarters of National Team Indoors. Notre Dame had never beaten them before and I clinched the winning point. It had been my dream since I was eight to beat Stanford, so I was on Cloud 9!
What is your best memory from your time at Notre Dame? All of the moments I get to share with my team are great memories, especially rushing Shannon (Mathews), two years ago after she clinched for us to be in our first Final Four and last year, when Kristy (Frilling) clinched our back-to-back Final Four. But most importantly, my best memory is Chrissie McGaffigan’s Banana Dance.
What is your favorite spot on campus? My favorite place on campus is the Grotto…but NDH is a close second.
What is your favorite t.v. show? My favorite TV show is GLEE!!!
What was the most interesting class you took here at Notre Dame? The most interesting class I’ve taken was Science, Technology and Society. It made you aware of all the intricacies of how technology is affecting basic parts of society, such as food.
What advice would you give someone learning to play tennis? Being an individual sport, tennis pushes you to test your personal boundaries mentally and physically. You have to keep believing and trusting yourself even through adversity.
If you hadn’t been an athlete, what other activities would you have liked to try? I would have wanted to continue pursuing piano and singing. I also would have tried to convince my parents to get me a horse.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you visit? If I could travel anywhere I really want to go to Greece. It looks breathtaking.
What will you miss most about Notre Dame after graduation? I will miss EVERYTHING about this place. I will miss just the feeling you get when you walk around campus and know that you are in a special place with truly amazing people.
What is your favorite season in South Bend? My favorite season is winter! Who doesn’t love dressing up in multiple layers? But I really do love snow.
What do you miss most about your hometown? I miss my mommy’s amazing cooking and my family, but most of all my gorgeous baby niece, Kamryn.
What has tennis taught you that has been helpful in other aspects of your life? Tennis has taught me all the disciplines and hard work that is necessary to be successful in life. But, with all the adversity, it has taught me to believe in myself and appreciate the “little victories” that remind you what is important in life.