Freshman learns life lessons from game

By Derek Barichello

When freshman Momei Qu’s family moved from China to Portland, Ore., her mother wanted better opportunities for her family and tennis provided an opportunity for her child to learn about life.

Qu said in China there was little time for sports, because she was always busy studying for school. When she moved to the United States at age nine, she did not have to study as much and her parents recommended tennis to her.

“They wanted me to get involved with tennis, because they felt it would train my mind for life,” Qu said. “In sports, you develop mental toughness, and they wanted me to learn how to fight in life.”

Qu said tennis has taught her those lessons. She puts them to practice in her academics and daily life.

“It goes both ways,” Qu said. “In both sports and academics, you learn that to be good at something it does not come easy. You have to work hard, and you will get what you put in. Sports have taught me a lot about work ethic.”

Qu has had to work hard to be successful. She is smaller than most tennis players, at only 5-feet-3-inches.

“I believe that no matter what size you are, you can be just as good as anyone else,” Qu said, “but to be better, you have to make adjustments. Coach (Sujay) Lama told me I have to hit the ball on the rise and to dictate the match, or else I’ll be overpowered by the bigger players.”

The hard work has paid off. Qu, who plays at No. 3 singles for the Illini, has won 13 of her last 17 matches, after getting off to a slow start with a 7-10 record.

“She might not have the power of (freshman) Macall Harkins or (senior) Cynthya Goulet, but she has the heart and intelligence,” Lama said. “She has also got the wheels. God gives and God takes away. Every player has their strengths and weaknesses; for Momei, it’s a matter of continuing to improve her strengths.”

Due to her size, Qu’s strength is playing baseline-to-baseline tennis, which Lama said reminds him of the Illini’s all-time leading singles winner Jennifer McGaffigan.

“She is very aggressive on the baseline,” Lama said. “She’s not afraid to come up to the net. She’s not afraid to charge and attack. She has a lot of guts. She reminds me of Jenny, because she gives 100 percent every day. In every lesson and every conditioning practice, she makes no excuses; she just does what she needs to do.”

Making the most of her time is one adjustment Qu said she had to learn to make when coming to college. She is a double major in electrical engineering and psychology and has earned a 4.0 grade point average.

“In the fall semester, it was hard to make adjustments,” Qu said. “I felt overwhelmed by everything. I was away from my parents for the first time, and I’m an only child, and it was tough to balance academics.”

Qu said her teammates helped her adjust.

“I feel like the team is like one big family to me,” Qu said. “In the spring, I was able to settle in and adjust well.”

Lama believes what Qu has been able to accomplish in only her freshman season is promising to the team.

“I can honestly see her becoming an All-American in her senior year,” Lama said. “She has to continue to get stronger physically and get a little more ‘umph’ on her serve, but I would not be surprised if she was an All-American or a Big Ten medal-winner. There are no limitations with her, because when she knows what she wants, she will work hard enough to get it.”