May 6, 2014
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- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DAN WALLACE
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Anyone who caught a University of Iowa men’s tennis match should have noticed Michael Swank right away.
Granted, the senior’s 6-foot, 6-inch frame helped him stand out in a crowd, but it was something else that made Swank hard to miss.
“He literally has a booming voice,” said UI head coach Steve Houghton. “I think he has as loud of a voice as I have heard.”
Swank, a native of Lawrence, Kansas, put the vocal cords to use on the court, as he was a verbal leader for the Hawkeyes. The leadership role is one that Swank embraced and felt comfortable with, and is one that he had been a part of since his freshman campaign.
Many collegiate players grow up viewing tennis as an individual sport, and not as much of a team activity. A multi-sport athlete in high school, Swank experienced what a typical team was as a standout basketball player, and took those experiences with him to Iowa.
“I got a very different look at what it meant to be on a team and to be a teammate for other guys,” said Swank. “When I was a junior varsity player in basketball, I would sit on the end of the varsity bench and my role was to cheer on the guys. That was something I brought in as a freshman, especially when I didn’t play much. I knew if I wasn’t going to contribute on the court, there were other ways I could contribute, and being a morale guy was something I really pushed for myself.”
During the later stages of his playing career, Swank spent less time on the sidelines. Still, Swank didn’t change the way he encouraged teammates. During matches, he yelled — very audibly — down courts to his fellow teammates, encouraging them to fight for the next point. His background in basketball helped him reward his tennis teammates for great effort and hustle on the court.
Swank changed his peers’ views on what it meant to be a team, as the entire roster of Hawkeyes could be heard cheering on one another, in matches or at practice. That came from the trust and respect that Swank nurtured among his teammates.
“His word is consistent with his example,” said Houghton. “When he says things, the other guys respect him because he puts into play what he is expecting from others.”
As a senior, Swank was featured prominently in the Hawkeye lineup, playing at the No. 1 doubles position and No. 6 singles. Swank played on the top doubles team the past two seasons, but this marked his first full season in the singles lineup. Swank attributed his progression this season to assistant coach Ross Wilson. Wilson changed Swank’s style of play to be a more aggressive. The results were evident, as he nearly doubled his win total over the course of the season.
“Changing the way I played gave me an identity as a player,” said Swank. “It pushed me into a more competitive position and a place where I could win matches and contribute to the team.”
As Swank’s collegiate career came to a close, he was able to look back on his four years as a success. After starting as a developmental player who didn’t see the court, Swank developed into a key contributor.
“As a freshman he was on the outside of things, and didn’t really play much,” said Houghton. “But as the years went by he got better and better. You always want to see guys progress and move up the ladder and get better every year.”
“Playing well shows that the hard work and effort I put into my career paid off,” said Swank. “If you look at the time we put into tennis day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, it’s a lot. To see the strides and steps I have taken really means a lot.”
Through all of the ups and downs, Swank is thankful for the opportunity to be a student-athlete at the UI, and the privileges that came with it. It’s been a four-year period where Swank made close friends, won big matches, and grew as a person and tennis player.
With a smile on his face, Swank found a way to put into a few words what the journey was like.
“It has been a great, long ride.”