VALPARAISO – When Nic Kooyers decided to go to Valparaiso, the Holland High School tennis player knew he could make an impact at an NCAA Division I program.
That impact lasted longer than he expected. Kooyers was selected for the Valparasio Athletic Hall of Fame this year. He is only the second men’s tennis player in school history to earn the honor. Even more special was going in the Class of 2022 with his coach, James Daugherty.
“It is a recognition of the work I put into the game – I was not recruited by any other Division I programs and this is an indication that I not only belonged but that I thrived,” Kooyers said. “It means something for my teammates as well. While singles is often an individual sport, in the collegiate game, you improve through practicing, competing, and living with a small number of teammates. These were the people that made me better and they deserve to be recognized as well. I got recognition because I played 1st singles, but many of them were equally qualified and we together deserve any accolades.”
While Kooyers was a well-rounded player on the court, something set him apart at No. 1 singles.
“My backhand was the shot that provided an advantage for me on the court,” he said. “But I think most would argue that it was my competitiveness and mental toughness that allowed me to compete and win against better competition. My strength was in identifying other’s weaknesses and developing strategies to exploit whatever I found.”
He learned that playing in Holland, being part of an incredible Dutch tradition on the courts.
“Tennis has been a strength of the Holland area since the 1970s and West Michigan has long been a powerhouse for developing solid tennis players. My uncles (Brian, Dan and Rick Paauwe) and my mother (Tammy Kooyers) were incredibly gifted players at Holland High, playing alongside state champ Vic Amaya,” Kooyers said. “I owe much of my development to my mom’s coaching and practices with my brother. However, the public tennis program in Holland was absolutely phenomenal at that time. I started in it when I was 4 and it gave me a summer job for five years . I remember doing drills every morning during the summer and then playing against all the other young tennis players in the area in intramurals in the afternoon. I believe that good programs in any sport are developed not through having one really good player, but by having cohorts of players that push one another to get better.”
It was that kind of push that transformed Kooyers into an NCAA Division I player – and a Hall of Famer.
The memories he was able to make in Holland were doubled when he went to Valparaiso.
“My favorite memory was a moment during a junior year when I had won 13/14 straight matches. We were playing a division rival, Western Illinois, in a match that was basically for our regular season conference title,” he said. “I was playing a Swedish player named Martin Bostrom at No. 1 singles and I got crushed the first set (6-1) – in fact, the entire team was struggling in their singles matches. But I just couldn’t miss in the second set – everything was falling in and Martin had no idea how I just got so much better. My coach was three courts down and he had basically given up on my match after the first set. We had a tradition of yelling ‘Let’s go Valpo ‘ after winning a set so that our teammates would know how the other matches were progressing. I remember closing out that set with an ace (a rarity for this 5-7 guy) and I screaming loud enough for everyone in Tulsa that day to hear me. Coach thought that I was just angry and not that I had won the set. I took the match a set later. My teammates pulled back in their singles matches too and we ended up winning that match (4-3) when my doubles partner, Joe Venegas, won the final singles match on court. That month at the end of my junior year was a point w here everything came together and I think back on it as a really happy and satisfying point in my career.”
Kooyers is a professor of Biology at the University of Louisiana.
“My field of study is evolutionary plant genetics. My research focuses on understanding how plant species respond to changing climates and how evolution can allow invasive species to better adapt to their introduced region,” he said. “I am married to a fellow scientist, Loren Sackett, and we have two kids, Blake (16 months) and Cassin (3.5 years). We really enjoy getting outside to hike, botanize and kayak. I still play tennis occasionally and hope to play more as my kids get older.”
And Kooyers can continue to pass on that Holland tradition as his kids learn from a Hall of Famer.