by Alan Hieber
As the tennis season winds down for WSU, sophomore Taylor Culbertson has shown to have the prowess of a veteran player with the power that carries off of her racket.
Around fourth grade, Culbertson saw her cousin Laura in the paper after qualifying for state in tennis and decided that she would like to do that herself. She made that goal a reality at Tecumseh where she dominated with a 108-11 career singles record, made it to state as a senior and was in the paper for it.
Culbertson's father Roger coached basketball at Tecumseh, while her mother Jennifer was her coach there. Their experience and expertise has been beneficial for her as an athlete in several ways she says.
“My parents being coaches helped me tremendously,” Culbertson said. “They know a lot about competing, the mental game and what they can say to help me through tough times during matches.”
When Culbertson chose to attend WSU, the deciding factors were staying close to family and a good mix of tennis and academics.
Culbertson was not only picking up the racket for a new school, but also a new part of tennis to excel at with doubles. As a freshman, she won 19 matches, 15 of which came with her doubles partner Tori Turner. One of those wins helped secure the Raiders a win against Cleveland State 4-3 in the Horizon League semifinals.
The duo of Culbertson and Turner has continued to be a solid one for WSU this season as their current record of 18-10 demonstrates. This includes a marquee victory over Notre Dame, which helped earn them Horizon League doubles team of the week honors in January.
Culbertson and Turner say that their playing styles are opposite, but that they still compliment each other well on the court.
“We really work well together because Tori is very consistent at the baseline, and I'm more of an attacker at the net,” Culbertson said. “After a while I can usually approach one of the shots at the net a lot easier because she is really good at placement and consistency.”
“We have been partners for two years now, so we have a sense of what the other person is doing on the court,” Turner said. “If she (Culbertson) is going for a hard to reach overhead, I feel she can trust that I can cover her if need be.
Cardiac Raiders would be a fitting name for Culbertson and Turner since most of their victories have been in comeback fashion.
“That is funny because we will be down and think, ‘It's ok. We'll just come back,'” Culbertson said. “I'll start off unfocused, miss a couple of shots, and we'll be down. We get back into focus and take our time to get back. It's usually smooth sailing from then on.”
In pressure situations, it's also important to remain calm and try not to overthink the end result of shots that are not going your way, according to Culbertson.
“In that case I try to slow down, take deep breaths and focus more on the shots that I'm hitting instead of the end result,” Culbertson said. “I forget about that and live in the moment.”
Much like the contagious smile Culbertson had while answering questions, Turner had the same description for her positivity on the court that is beneficial when they are served with adverse match situations.
“It's awesome to have a doubles partner that I can be competitive and focused with, but at the same time have fun and joke around with between points,” Turner said. ”By keeping the mood light it's easier to shake off points that didn't go our way.”
The motivating support of her teammates has been significant during her WSU career so far Culbertson noted.
“You can unwind by talking to them if you're stressed. They let you vent,” Culbertson said. “In practice they usually have your back. If you're not doing that well they will try to pick you up and say, ‘It's ok. Get back. You're fine.'”
Culbertson's coach Eric Burns feels she is one of the best athletes he has seen during his 16 years in the profession.
“Taylor has a really strong work ethic and is driven to do well in both tennis and her studies,” Burns said. “Her athleticism is superior to most players I have coached. She also has a knack of knowing what to look for on the doubles court and was a quick learner in doubles strategy.”
The total in the win column for Culbertson during her debut season was eight, but for a player with her fearless attitude this appears to be the perfect challenge. She has already notched three more victories this year. Burns says the depth of quality players intensifies the transition to college level tennis.
“She (Culbertson) is still a work in progress in singles, but has made a monster jump in her game from year one,” Burns said. “If she continues to improve at this rate she honestly has the physical tools to be one of the best players in the Horizon League.”
Culbertson's studies are in biological sciences with a focus in applied physiology along with her 3.46 GPA. She hopes to use her degree for physical therapy, the chiropractic field or speech and language pathology.
Redemption is on the minds of the WSU players after they sustained a 4-2 loss against Youngstown State in last season's Horizon League championship.
Culbertson has powered through with her shot and confidence, which should make a league title and other accomplishments no aberration.
“Although I may be a senior, I look up to Taylor for her qualities on and off the court,” Turner said.