Senior duo set to lead seasoned GVSU team
GVL / Hannah Mico. Senior Lexi Rice makes an impressive serve during Saturday morning’s match against Wayne State University; Rice was playing doubles with her partner Carola Orna (junior).
Whether they were sitting next to each other in a crammed van on the way to away meets, posting up in the library for countless hours before exams, or having each other’s back on the court, fellow senior teammates Lexi Rice and Niki Shipman have been right alongside one another since their freshman year.
The lone seniors on Grand Valley State University’s women’s tennis team began their collegiate careers as doubles partners and have strengthened their relationship on and off the court ever since.
“When you’re a team, or rather someone’s partner, it becomes a family. Being in the same class, we became really close,” Shipman said. “A lot of hours spent on road trips together and lots of memories made.”
Shipman and Rice burst onto the scene in 2010 when head coach John Black decided to pair the two on the court. It was a decision that paid off for Black, as the pair went 43-10 in doubles competition in their first two seasons with the team.
“They did a great job playing together when they first came in,” Black said. “They established a connection on the court right away that translated to quite a few victories over those two years they were partners.”
In their junior season, Black decided to shuffle his roster around to better distribute the talent on his doubles teams.
Still, those two seasons helped both players strengthen their individual talents and on-court personas.
“We’ve definitely grown together in the past couple of years,” Rice said. “Being in the same class, you tend to go through some of the same things as competitors, and we’ve both been there for each other to motivate and push one another.”
As a result, the Laker duo has excelled at GVSU both in singles and doubles play. Shipman and Rice became regulars on the All-GLIAC list in their first three seasons with the team. Shipman has earned All-GLIAC honors in all three seasons, while Rice garnered All-GLIAC Honorable Mention plaudits as a freshman and as a junior.
“They have made several adjustments throughout both of their careers that have allowed them to have several successful seasons,” Black said. “Now that they are seniors, they lead by example and have developed into great leaders.”
Their focus not only is seen on the tennis court, but also in the classroom. In her freshman and sophomore season, Shipman earned both ITA and GLIAC All-Academic honors. Rice also earned GLIAC All-Academic honors as a sophomore.
“It wasn’t easy, that’s for certain,” Shipman said. “I really had some difficult years dealing with the work load of being a student-athlete, but it has definitely paid off. You really don’t have a choice but to be focused in both aspects.”
Shipman and Rice have less than two months left of their Laker careers. The team hasn’t made it to the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 since 2011, but this year could be different.
With no freshmen or sophomores on the eight-player roster, the duo has a chance to spark a deep postseason push.
“We want that feeling again of making a run in the national tournament,” Rice said. “We haven’t felt that in what seems like a long time. For both of us, it being our last year, we want to go out with a bang.”
Their senior campaign continues on April 10 when GVSU travels across town for a matchup at Hope College.