By Neel Madhavan
When she was 8-years old, Carol Finke played her first tennis tournament in an event hosted by Northwestern University. Since then, she’s dreamed of playing for the Wildcats.
The Glencoe-native caught the eye of Northwestern women’s tennis head coach Claire Pollard at a young age.
“She’s a local girl, someone who I’ve known for a long time and watched grow up,” Pollard said.
As she made her way into the game, Finke played for coach Jerry Morse-Karzen at New Trier High School in Winnetka.
“She was a great leader,” Morse-Karzen said. “She one of our captains her junior and senior year, which is a little bit rare. Sometimes our captains are just seniors, but she was one of a few juniors that got elected also. She was a captain on the team, but nobody worked harder than she did.”
While at New Trier, she earned a fourth-place finish in singles at the Illinois state championship her senior year and helped lead New Trier to a third-place team finish at the state championship that year, as well.
By the time she finished high school, she had developed into a five-star recruit who ranked as highly as No. 67 nationally in the 2014 recruiting class.
She had many options as to where she would continue her tennis career at the collegiate level, including Northwestern. But, ultimately, Finke decided to follow in her mother and uncle’s footsteps and continue her tennis career at Yale University.
“I recruited her before,” Pollard said. “I thought maybe that it just wasn’t the right fit at the time.”
After a couple of seasons at Yale, injuries forced Finke to miss a portion of her junior season and all of her senior season. As a result, she redshirted her senior year, which gave her an extra year of eligibility.
“I took almost a year off,” Finke said. “Once I could, I just tried to go out to the courts as much as possible at Yale, and then as soon as I got home this summer, I was able to train.”
During her year-long break, she worked toward finishing her degree in psychology and graduating from Yale.
At the same time, she reached out to Pollard and started the process of coming to Northwestern as a graduate transfer.
“I was so excited that she was willing to come,” Pollard said. “I had already filled my scholarships, but she was able to walk on. It’s good to have someone with her experience.”
As soon as she enrolled in classes at Northwestern in the fall and began working towards her master’s degree in sport communication and data analytics, Finke was able to start training with the team.
In the end, Finke still ended up where she dreamed of playing tennis since she was 8-years old.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Finke said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Claire (Pollard) and (assistant coach) Julian (Tejada) provided me and gave me. It’s just been so special. I just want to help the team do as well as we can.”
Northwestern has a deep and talented roster this season. While she didn’t make it into the Wildcats’ singles and doubles lineups to start the season, Finke has cracked the bottom of the singles lineup in recent weeks.
She’s made the most of the opportunity. Through four matches at the No. 6 singles position, Finke is 3-1 with wins against Baylor, Iowa and Illinois.
Pollard said Finke’s prior experience of playing tennis at the collegiate level and the way she’s battled back from injuries is a valuable addition to the relatively young team. Some of the younger players even call her “Coach Carol.”
“I think her perspective is that she’s just really appreciative of the opportunity here,” Pollard said. “You can tell. She’s constantly telling the girls how lucky they are with how great Northwestern does things. We pride ourselves on providing a world-class, meaningful experience over the four years. The experience for me has been the No. 1 part, and I think she’s really bought-in to that and really appreciated that.”