Goulet will be honored on women’s Senior Day

By Derek Barichello

Senior Cynthya Goulet will be one of two seniors honored at the Illini’s last home match on Sunday against Minnesota – but what makes Goulet unique is that, academically, she is only a junior.

Due to an NCAA ruling, Goulet will only get to play collegiate tennis for three years.

In Quebec, where Goulet grew up, schools only require the completion of 11 grades and college-bound high school students attend a year of pre-college after they graduate.

Goulet graduated at age 16 and attended pre-college for a year before deciding to come to Illinois. With the time she spent in pre-college included, it took her longer than a year to attend school.

The NCAA prohibits athletes from taking more than a year off in between high school and college, so the NCAA decided to remove a year of eligibility from Goulet, despite an Illinois appeal.

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“It hurts and I still feel cheated,” Goulet said. “Some of the other juniors have played more matches than me. I know (junior) Brianna (Knue) has played more matches than me, like over the summer and stuff.”

Although Goulet found the ruling unfair, she knew she could not change it.

“It made me realize my time at Illinois would be limited,” Goulet said. “I can only do what I can do, so I’m just trying to make the most of my time.”

Goulet has done just that. Last season she finished with a record of 26-9 at the No. 3 spot in singles and she is 17-1 this spring playing at No. 1. She has won 19 of her last 21 matches.

“I’ve been taking it one match at a time,” Goulet said. “I don’t worry about records or how many I’ve won in a row. My philosophy is just to go in and do my best in each match.”

It was not always this easy for Goulet. In her sophomore season, she posted an 8-12 record in singles.

Things did not turn around for her until a come-from-behind victory in last season’s win over Notre Dame.

After dropping the first set 6-2, Goulet fell behind in the second set 4-1 and seemed destined to lose the match.

She came back to win the second set 6-4 and finished the match off with a 6-3 decision in the third.

“That boosted my confidence,” Goulet said. “I realized that if I could come back like that, I could win any match. That confidence kept building up as I kept playing good matches.”

Now whenever Goulet goes out to play, she knows she can win. Goulet has only lost two matches this spring to No. 4 Audra Cohen of Northwestern and No. 18 Dea Sumantri of Washington, two matches in which assistant coach JoAnne Russell said Goulet did not play her best but gave herself a chance to win.

“Cynthya is a rare player in that she is our best player on offense and defense,” Russell said. “That is a great asset to have because, as a coach, I can tell her to get more offensive and she can do it. Even when Cynthya is not playing her best she can get the ball back. Every time it is hit to her, I just believe she will hit it back.”

It is the belief Russell has in Goulet that has led the both of them to have an outstanding player/coach relationship.

“I like having JoAnne as coach on my court because she’s good at calming me down,” Goulet said. “She usually gives you one or two simple things to work at and that makes you concentrate and forget about the situation. She also believes in me. She always tells me ‘your bad is better than that girl,’ and that gives me confidence.”

Russell said what makes Goulet fun to coach is that she listens.

“We cannot have an understanding unless she’s willing to let me in,” Russell said. “No matter what I say, she always looks at me and says ‘yes’ or ‘OK’ and that is all you can ask for. That tells me that she at least heard what I had to say, and she will have whatever I tell her in mind. It takes a lot for a player to be willing to listen to a coach, because usually you are giving advice during a pivotal point in the game, when they are either struggling or it’s really close. Cynthya always listens.”

So when Goulet goes out on Sunday and plays at Atkins Tennis Center for the last time, she will leave a legacy at Illinois.

“She is probably the most talented player to have ever played at Illinois,” said head coach Sujay Lama. “She is one of the best players in the country right now, and we’ve always thought she had that ability. What Cynthya has been able to do is take her talent and turn it into something special.”

The only thing there is left to wonder is how good Goulet could have been next season for the Illini.

“With the more and more confidence Cynthya gets,” Russell said, “the more she keeps going. Anything can happen for her.”