Tennis has been a big part of Tanner McKnight’s life. But his relationship with the sport has been a streaky one. There have been multiple times that McKnight, a senior for Waynesburg University, thought his career was over.
“I first started playing when I was seven or eight,” McKnight said. “I went to summer tennis camp every year up until fifth or sixth grade. Then tennis kind of went on the backburner until sophomore year of high school. After high school I thought my tennis career was done.”
In the middle of McKnight’s freshman year at Waynesburg, a simple text from coach Ron Headlee led to a renaissance for his life on the court.
“He asked if I wanted to come out for the team and see how it went,” he said. “I went for it.”
Headlee has been coaching McKnight for the past four years since his return to the court.
“He’s so respectable,” Headlee said. “You don’t get a lot of guys who are willing to play with anybody and do whatever. He always gave 100 percent, and was always very coachable, and tried to improve his game.”
The relationship with Headlee has been one that McKnight has greatly enjoyed in his time as a Yellow Jacket.
“We’ve gotten to know each other a lot,” he said. “He has taught so much to all of us.”
Headlee has seen McKnight improve throughout the years, especially as he racked up more experience.
“He’s very aggressive, Headlee said. “He did a good job of taming that down. Sometimes he got over-aggressive. He has great speed and was able to get to a lot of balls.”
You don’t get a lot of guys who are willing to play with anybody and do whatever. He always gave 100 percent, and was always very coachable, and tried to improve his game.”
Along with his play on the court, McKnight also proved to be a valuable asset as a leader for the Jackets.
“He was a senior leader for us this year,” Headlee said. “He led warmups and was always encouraging guys, and was very encouraging to a lot of the younger players. I thought he was a great role model for everyone.”
In addition to the grave impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on America, it’s also thrown a wrench into the sports world. Seniors like McKnight saw their athletic careers end abruptly. The Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) briefly postponed all spring sports in mid-March and officially canceled all spring sports seasons on April 2. The men’s tennis championship tournament was scheduled for this week.
“We went to Hilton Head over spring break and had a lot of momentum,” McKnight said. “The next week, we got that call on Thursday saying that we were pretty much canceled for the year. It was tough knowing that we had so much momentum coming off of spring break, and then being shut down. The last match we had played wasn’t even a PAC match. It was sad in a sense.”
Headlee had high hopes for McKnight in a season that ended too soon.
“I was looking forward to this year,” Headlee said. “I think he was going to do well. I’m a little disappointed that we won’t get to see that.”
The unusual times have allowed for some reflection. McKnight shared his favorite Yellow Jacket tennis memory, which took place during last season’s playoff loss to Bethany.
“I got the win at six singles for us,” McKnight said. “We still came up short in the match, but it was still a great feeling to get a win in a playoff game.
After college, McKnight, who will graduate with a degree in Public Relations, is applying for jobs but is still weighing his options as to what his future holds.
This article originally appeared in Waynesburg University's student newspaper, "The Yellow Jacket."