Occidental's Top Women Tennis Stars Will Pass Up Pros to Shine Elsewhere

Times Staff Writer

Two star tennis players at Occidental College, Kristin Carter and Harriet Wilcox, might have realistic shots at eventually playing on the professional tour.

But, surprisingly, neither is really interested.

Instead, Carter plans to become a doctor and Wilcox plans to enter business after graduation.

On a team that is second-best in Division III women's tennis (with a 13-4 overall mark), Wilcox and Carter are two of the reasons for Oxy's success.

Carter, a senior, is the No. 1 singles player on the team. Last year, she helped lead the Tigers into the Division III finals, where they lost to Trenton (N.J.) State. A candidate for academic All-American honors, Carter has extensive national experience, finishing No. 2 in the nation as a singles player in her sophomore year.

She was eliminated in the quarterfinals last season.

14-3 Record

Wilcox alternates between the No. 3 and 4 spots in the Occidental lineup. With her 14-3 record in this, her junior year, she figures to be a major force for the Tigers next season. All three of her losses were against Division I opponents. Wilcox won two of her three matches at the finals last year, one of the wins coming against a top Trenton State player.

How the two got to Occidental, and how they became good tennis players, is a study in contrasts.

Wilcox was born in the Philippines. She has lived in Guam, Singapore and Saudi Arabia and her family now lives in Kuwait. Her father is an American international banker and her mother is Filipino. Her high school years were spent at a boarding school in Massachusetts. That is where Wilcox finally got serious about tennis.

"I was very athletic when I was small, but tennis was the last thing I played," Wilcox said. "I played volleyball (a three-time MVP in high school), basketball, softball and squash. In fact, squash is still my favorite sport. If Occidental had a squash team, I wouldn't be playing tennis."

But Carter would.

She had a more traditional tennis upbringing. Born in Washington, D.C., Carter's family moved to Phoenix when she was an infant. Her father is a neurosurgeon, the primary reason she wants to be a doctor.

Entered Tournaments

As a youngster, Carter did her operating on the junior tennis circuit. At the age of 12, she began to enter local tournaments. "I didn't like them at first," she said, "but I always got a free Coke after the matches, so I stayed with it. Soon, the Cokes lost my enthusiasm, but the tennis didn't."

Her tournament play moved on. New Mexico. Texas. Carter was getting better. But she stayed at the regional level because her parents didn't consider tennis important enough to finance her travels across the nation. Still she was ranked sixth in her region. And as a high-school player, she was good enough to lead her team to three consecutive state titles.

With their high school days coming to an end, both women wanted to attend a college where the emphasis was on academics, not tennis. Occidental, a Division III school which has no athletic scholarships, was their choice. They said they came to Occidental knowing that they would get to play more than at a Division I school, where the availability of scholarships attracts a greater number of quality athletes.

As they sat in a conference room at Occidental, discussing their respective careers, dozens of trophies reminded Carter and Wilcox that they are in a tennis environment.

"But I chose Division III because academics mean more to me than tennis," Carter said. "In Division I, athletics are your life. I'd like to get into medicine, maybe genetics. That career has a longer span than an athletic career anyway. And women tennis players don't make as much (money) as the men do."

Weather a Factor

Wilcox cited similar reasons for coming to Occidental, but also added that she had grown tired of the cold weather on the East coast. Wilcox is majoring in economics with minors in diplomacy and population studies.

Carter and Wilcox are so different that an early-season attempt at playing doubles failed. Wilcox said they weren't compatible enough to win consistently because they have such different tennis philosophies.

"Kristin is very serious, a good competitor and very calm on the court," said Lynn Pacala, Occidental's athletic director, tennis coordinator and fomer coach. "Harriet is volatile, expressive and her emotions are read immediately. She's the only player I've ever known who knows what's going on in every court around her. That's how loose she is."

Loose is a word that wouldn't be used in describing Carter's play. Although she is calm on the court, she is also very businesslike. A right-handed player who likes to stay in the back court, her strengths, she said, are strategy and competitiveness. "I think a lot about my opponent's weaknesses," she said. "I can play people bigger and stronger than me because I can think things through."

Wilcox, a lefty, is just the opposite. "My first two years, I was very impatient," she said. "I was a serve-and-volleyer who liked to win my points quickly. It hurt me a little, although I was fairly consistent in winning.

"This year, I've changed. I have the option of staying back. I have more patience. I like to joke around out there, and I think that's part of the reason I'm such a unique player. I don't think anyone would follow my style."

But others wouldn't mind following the path Wilcox has taken to get to Occidental. She has lived all over the world and her experiences have left her a more rounded individual, she said.

'I Want to Live Abroad'

"I know nothing of junior tennis," Wilcox said. "It's not heard of in some of the places I've lived. But I wouldn't trade my upbringing. I want to live abroad in the future. It's the best experience I could have had.

"When you live abroad, it seems everyone in your school is from somewhere else too. Here, your friends are your friends you've had since childhood. There, everyone's always moving, so you knew you'd be friends for just a few years. Friendships had to be stronger because they didn't last.

"It's kind of hard, not being able to say where home is. But I am an American citizen, naturalized when I was 17. Home to me is where my parents are. If it's in Kuwait in a desert, then that's where it is.

"I like America. It's very egalitarian. It's the fairest country, as far as getting a job is concerned. But I don't want my children to live here and be close-minded. Americans think Americans are the best people in the world. Californians think Californians are the best people in the world. I didn't know people were like that until I got here. I was shocked."

Both women say they will continue to play tennis for fun but graduation from Occidental will mark the end of competitive tennis for both.

Carter has been accepted to Baylor's medical school. She is still awaiting word from several others.

Wilcox has dreams of running a company someday. She will play tennis with friends, but does not want to get caught up in that Southern California phenomenon known as "wifey tennis."

As Carter and Wilcox get ready for new directions, Wilcox is reminded that she still has a year of tennis left at Occidental; one more year to make a name for herself.

"I know me and Kristin come from different worlds, and here's the perfect example," Wilcox said. "In Kuwait, I'm in the sports pages a lot. I've had my picture next to John McEnroe. Can you believe that? In Kuwait, everyone knows who I am. In California, no one knows who I am."

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