Kirstie Symon can put her finger on the moment she hit rock bottom.
It was home, in Gold Coast, Australia, on winter break. It was the day she got out of stomach surgery and Symon, Newman’s No. 1 singles tennis player the last three seasons, was in a tremendous amount of pain.
“I didn’t want to fly back, I didn’t want play tennis, I didn’t want to do anything,” said Symon, a senior. “I felt like I let the team down, let the coach down.”
That’s when Newman’s support system clicked into place. Newman coach Shella Augspurger and athletic director Vic Trilli had conversations with Symon in the days after her surgery, letting her know they understood and were behind her either way. Teammates also voiced their support.
Within days, Symon had changed her mind. There was only one problem.
“We found out that, by law, I wasn’t allowed to fly out of the country within two weeks of having surgery,” Symon said. “The problem was that I had surgery on Friday and was supposed to fly out on Monday to go back to school. So legally, I couldn’t even leave the country.”
So on the day the two weeks were up, Symon flew back to Wichita, where she’s been the key component to one of Newman’s best seasons — the Jets are 16-3 overall and 4-2 in Heartland Conference play after beating Northwest Missouri on Friday and Fort Hays State on Saturday in Wichita. St. Mary’s (13-4, 6-0) and Arkansas-Fort Smith (10-5, 5-1) are just ahead of Newman in the standings.
Symon is 13-3 in singles — she won both her matches over the weekend — and has played with Taylor Jordan in the No. 1 double spot at times, although Lisa Pleskan and Carissa Villaflor also play at No. 1.
“We have pretty much the same team as last year, and they’ve used that experience to come together as a team, to become close knit,” Augspurger said. “Right now, we’re trying to make our case for an at-large bid for (then NCAA Tournament), which will really be helped by a couple more wins and a good showing in the conference tournament.”
After Symon’s return from surgery, she had to battle her way back into the No. 1 spot, something she’d kept a stranglehold on for almost three years, since spending her freshman season at Seminole (Okla.) State College then transferring to Newman as a sophomore.
“Coming back after surgery, obviously, I was a little set back and frustrated,” Symon said. “Tennis is my life. Playing college tennis has been my No. 1 goal since I was in the seventh grade. Having to work my way back up gave me an idea to what the other girls are fighting for, to get to that (No. 1) position ... when I finally got it back, it was a good feeling.”
Augspurger, at the point Symon had battled her way back to the top spot, had seen it before. The Heartland tournament is Friday and Saturday in Austin, Texas.
“When she came in, I thought she was going to play in the No. 2 spot for me ... she’s not a very big person, she’s tiny,” Augspurger said. “But she can smack the ball. She’s got a big fight in her ... she comes back after surgery and battles back to her spot and she never let it go.”