The final month of fifth-year senior Vincent Nguyen's tenure at UC San Diego turned out to be about as good as it gets. The captain and singles starter on the Men's Tennis saw his team finish up its regular season undefeated (20-0), earn a trip to the NCAA Division II Championships in Florida and, despite suffering a loss in the round of 16, close out the campaign ranked 10th in the nation. A few weeks after the conclusion of his competitive career, Nguyen was not only named UCSD's Outstanding Male Senior Student-Athlete but was selected to receive a prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. A three-year member and former chairman of the Triton Athletes' Council, Nguyen graduated earlier this month with a degree in biochemistry and cell biology, sporting a 3.81 cumulative GPA. He plans to start medical school in August at Temple University in Philadelphia. Amidst all of the hoopla that's come his way, Nguyen found time to talk about the recognition, his team and the UCSD student-athlete experience.
Q-UCSD's Outstanding Male Student-Athlete of the Year for 2010-11. How did it feel when you heard your name called at the 2011 Athletics Recognition Dinner?
NGUYEN-I definitely felt some nervousness building up as I slowly realized that I was about to be called up based on the activities that were being listed off. When I was finally called to the podium, I was in a bit of shock in front of all the lights and people. It's nice to be able to represent my team with the award, because we had an unbelievable year and I love the guys-they're like my brothers.
Q-Talk a little about your career arc as a student-athlete at UCSD-what do you think allowed you to reach that pinnacle?
made the team as a freshman walk-on, so being able to start and contribute to
the team for the next four years has been a real ride. I wouldn't have reached
my potential without the intense instruction and mentoring from Coach (Eric)
Steidlmayer. He really cares for his players and only wants to help us improve.
My older teammates also served as great role models and taught me how to find a balance between school, socializing, and sport. I learned to carry the discipline and work ethic developed on court to other parts of my life, which surely helped me reach my academic and extracurricular goals.
Q-Before you stepped on the tennis court for the first time this year, did you have any idea that your team would eventually finish the regular season 20-0?
NGUYEN-Playing through the season without losing a match literally felt like I was living a dream from February to May. I knew we were working very hard on our fitness and had competed against a variety of opponents in the fall season, so I was confident we were going to do well. Since we didn't graduate anyone from the roster from last season's roster, we were only looking up from our 12-11 record. Still, it was pretty surreal to win so many close matches this year-a bunch of 5-4 and 6-3 matches where it came down to one guy, sometimes me, and we were able to stay perfect.
Q-There were obviously a lot of special moments throughout the year. What moment stands out as the most meaningful to you?
NGUYEN-I think many guys on the team would agree that beating Barry University 5-4, ranked No. 2 at the time and defending NCAA runner-ups, right before finals week in winter quarter was the most epic moment of the year. We came out firing with nothing to lose and went up 2-1 after doubles. There was a vibe on the courts that I think we all felt-each guy on our roster was playing really well. Erik (Elliott) beat the No. 1-ranked player in the country in straight sets, and literally seconds later I clinched the match at No. 4 singles. We have it all on tape and it's something I'm sure we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
Q-In the final ITA Division II national poll, UCSD was ranked No. 10, its highest ranking since 2007. Do you believe that represents what you and the team accomplished this year?
NGUYEN-I personally don't like to scrutinize rankings, but I think our No.10 ranking is a fair representation of this season's success. We beat all the teams we were supposed to beat that were ranked below us, and we also had nice wins over top schools like Barry. I think it's nice for the guys to carry that ranking over to next year, to really train hard this summer and exceed expectations like we did this year.
Q-This was not a team that was necessarily expected to be this good at the start of the season. Why do you think it was able to play above expectations and was there a particular point during the season when you started thinking, "hey, we might be pretty good"?
NGUYEN-We had a decent season last year, and since we didn't graduate anyone, we all figured that we would be at least decent this year. After the fall season, I really had no extraordinary expectations for the regular season. We were training hard, but nothing really out of the ordinary before winter break. When we returned from the holidays, Coach started running us into the ground right away. I really attribute our success this season to the consistent and intense track work we put in over the course of the season. After we beat Barry, Hawaii Pacific and Lafayette the week before finals in winter quarter, I was riding a high and was confident telling anyone that we were pretty good.
Q-The team reached the NCAA Championships but bowed out in the round of 16. Was that a bittersweet ending to the season and what was the message Coach Eric Steidlmayer imparted after that final match?
NGUYEN-The loss was definitely bittersweet since we came into the Championships with such confidence-but since the match ended pretty quickly, it wasn't too excruciating of a loss. Coach kept the message short and sweet-we were beaten by a better team, and we should look to train even harder over the summer to prepare for next season.
Q-Speaking of Coach Steidlmayer, how much influence do you feel he had on your collegiate success and what are his primary attributes as a coach?
NGUYEN-Coach has had an immense influence on my success both on and off the court. He isn't afraid to tell you "how it is," which I really respect because he only wants his players to improve. I remember one of his quotes I heard early on in my career: "Don't make excuses, find solutions." His no-nonsense, hard-working attitude has made a huge impact on my personal growth, and I think all the guys on the team would agree.
Q-You focused on
singles as a senior but have also played doubles throughout your career. What
do you like about each and which do you prefer?
NGUYEN-I am definitely a singles player at heart. I love the individual nature of tennis and have found that I perform better alone. When things go right, I reap the benefits, but when they go wrong, I can only blame myself. I like the cut-and-dry nature of singles and think it's had a huge impact on my personality.
Still, I secretly love doubles. The game is so much faster-paced and it's an interesting challenge to work with a teammate to beat a mutual opponent. I never developed the doubles skills in my junior career to be a natural starter in doubles, but I still loved every chance I got to play, especially with my former roommate Brandon Stevenson.
Q-Your teammate, Austin West, said that Erik Elliott is the toughest player on your team to compete against. Do you agree? What other teammates would be difficult match-ups for you and why?
personally hate playing Erik because he is especially good at capitalizing on
my weaknesses. I agree with Austin that he's the toughest on the team-he is playing
No. 1 for a reason. He takes the ball so early and has such great ball-striking
skills that you're always playing defense against him. Normally, I don't get
fazed playing defense but it's tough to keep it up when you only see balls
flying past you.
Austin and Max Jiganti are two tough guys I definitely get fired up about playing because they both have great court sense and are strategically solid. They both also compete like crazy, so I know I'm in for a dogfight every time.
Q-West also said that you were the most competitive player on the team. How does that make you feel? You also have a history of consistently playing the longest matches. Why does that happen so often and do you feel you have an edge when a match goes longer?
NGUYEN-That is interesting-I think Austin is the most competitive J It's a nice compliment, but I think everyone on the team competes extremely hard and that our universal competitiveness had a ton to do with our success this season. I unfortunately make everyone wait past dusk to watch me play. I just like making people wait. In all seriousness, I tend to play long points and don't mind taking my time to recover between points. The longer the match goes, the more confident I get. I like playing under pressure and always feel fitter than the other guy.
Q-Growing up, or even now, do you have a favorite professional tennis player? If you could take specific skills from individual players, what are some that, in your opinion, would produce a great hybrid?
NGUYEN-My favorite player growing up was definitely Rafael Nadal. I love his work ethic, intensity, and personality both on and off the court. He can be a real goof but is 110% focused on improving his game and doing his best all the time. I would take Ivo Karlovic's (7-foot monster) serve, Roger Federer's silky yet potent forehand, Novak Djokovic's rock solid backhand, and John McEnroe's volleys. I would also steal Federer's footwork-he is always on balance!
Q-You're a San Jose native with five years in San Diego on your resume. What is the biggest difference between the two regions? What do you like most about San Diego?
NGUYEN-I really love San Jose. The area holds a special place in my heart since I was born and raised there. My parents unfortunately decided to move a bit further northeast to Dublin, but I still call San Jose home. Silicon Valley in general is a bit slower paced than San Diego. People don't drive as crazily up north. People in SoCal tend to be a bit friendlier and happier at first glance. Maybe it has to do with the perfect weather we are blessed with.
Q-You've been accepted and are planning to attend medical school at Temple University in the fall. Was this the objective from the time you entered UCSD? What are your career aspirations?
NGUYEN-I definitely didn't see myself going to medical school when I started at UCSD. I just wanted to make the tennis team and see how I'd fit into the college atmosphere. With more exposure to the health field, I found that I enjoyed and was pretty good at talking with patients. I've been watching a lot of neurosurgery recently, and it's hard not to be inspired. Still, I'm going to see how I feel during third and fourth-year rotations for long term career plans.
Q-You were recently awarded at prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, one of three UCSD student-athletes to receive that honor in 2010-11. How did it feel to cap off your collegiate career being recognized like that on a national level?NGUYEN-I couldn't feel more honored to have been selected for such a prestigious award. The scholarship money definitely helps a bunch with the increasing costs of medical education. It's a privilege to be able to represent my team and university on a national scale with the award. It's especially cool for UCSD to have three athletes (Jessica Ferguson, Kelly Fogarty & Nguyen) this year be selected for the award. I couldn't have asked for anything more personally gratifying than being selected for that award to finish off my career. To see the blur of hard work and fun culminate in such a special award like this is remarkable.
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