Brookfield East tennis players Emma Corwin and Emily Horneffer didn’t have to look far for inspiration growing up.
Corwin had two older brothers who starred for the Spartans boys team - Tim, a senior who plays for DePaul University - and two-time state champion, Felix, a junior at the University of Minnesota.
Horneffer was inspired by her brother, David, who finished second twice, won the WIAA State Championship this past spring and now plays at Kalamazoo College.
“It was really cool to watch him and everything he accomplished,” Emily Horneffer said. “He is definitely inspirational to me. It made me want to try harder.
“We would go out a lot and play and he kind of gave me lessons. We were never competitive; it's always just fun. I was so excited at the state tournament (last spring). He worked really hard and I was really proud of him. He comes to watch me and I go to watch him. We just hope for the best for each other.”
“They are the reason that I love this sport,” said Emma, East’s No. 1 singles player. “It's in my blood because of them. They showed me what's it like to have a passion and reach a goal. Growing up I would hit in their group, but I was always the little weakling. Those ages I wasn't very good at tennis and they were playing in national tournaments.
“Both of them when playing high school tennis and now playing in college continue to have the same love of the game. It has really motivated me to continue working on improving and being a good leader for my team and eventually, go on to play college tennis as well.”
Dancing vs Tennis
Horneffer, who plays No. 2 singles, got started in tennis around 4 years old - or ‘whenever I could hold a racquet,’ - she recalled. Her parents, who both play tennis, entered her in local tournaments to get her started. But she found a different atmosphere in high school.
“I was really excited to play high school tennis,” Emily said. “There was team spirit and it was a lot more fun than individual tournaments.”
Photos by Alan Herzberg, SportsPhotos LLC
East tennis coach Linda Lied was happy to get her, because she was also a skilled dancer (pom pon).
“She is a very talented dancer,” Lied said. “She focused on dance. She was very competitive. At freshman orientation I told her ‘I would love to have you on the court.’ She was not sure about playing tennis.
“But David had a lot of influence and pushed her into giving tennis a try and the rest is history. She comes from a neat little family; she’s a good role model. It was a huge win for us.”
Lied could immediately see how good Emily was with a racquet in her hand instead of a pom pon.
“As a freshman he was very talented. Her strokes were pretty good, her movements were fantastic. She was fundamentally sound, but she needed match experience. We played her at 3-4 singles, at a level she can compete at.
But I couldn’t succeed if it wasn’t for what my brothers and coaches have taught me.”
- Emma Corwin, Spartans No. 1 singles player
“He had good composure, she was very stoic. She was amazingly mature. She was a smart young lady, who sees the court well. She knows the angles.
Horneffer was a special qualifier at state with a 24-4 record as a freshman.
“I never expected it at all,” she said. “I was really excited. The team did so well, it made my freshman year real easy. It was awesome and we got to the finals of state which was insane. It (state) was very intimidating. I've only played in tournaments, but it’s been at local courts. The big stadium (Madison’s Nielsen Tennis Stadium), it was a really, really cool experience.”
And Emily feels she will be better this time around.
“I think that experience last year helped me and I can definitely go in more confident with that under my belt. I need to work on my consistency on attacking balls; just going out and playing my best every time. I think that will come with time and experience.
“A majority of the game is mental toughness for sure. Going out and playing a match, you have to be so prepared.”
All in the family
Corwin, meanwhile, was surrounded by tennis growing up.
Emma’s father, Timon, was a college coach in Florida and he worked for the USTA.
“He told us ‘You guys can do this sport if you love it,’” Emma recalled. “He played college tennis and he got us into it when I was little. I loved hitting with my brothers. They were a little too good for me, but I kept saying I'm going to catch them, I'm going to catch them.”
Before coming to Wisconsin when she was 11, Emma played in a tennis camp every summer when she was 7-10 years old. She was able to play tennis year-round as an individual. She had a coach and had weekly group lessons.
“Sometimes I would sign up for a USTA tournament. That's what all my experience was. I would go to a tournament, I would win, then I would lose, lose.
“I really started playing tennis when we moved to Wisconsin when I was 11. It wasn't until eighth grade I started traveling in the Midwest and growing my confidence. I never did big national tournaments, but the more I played, the better I got.”
Lied recalled when Emma came out for the team.
“She was a bubbly kid, a really sweet girl. She enjoyed the high school program. She liked the team environment, cheering on her teammates and them cheering her on.”
“I was so used to playing for myself, it's a different sport for me (in high school). It's so fun. I love high school season; being able to cheer people on when they play tennis.
“I like being the last match out there. I like everybody watching my court and cheering me on. That fires me up. It's a different competition because it's now just the girls in Wisconsin. But now I have a team behind me wearing the same uniform, playing for our school.”
Corwin went to state seeded 10th and took a 22-6 record with her.
Lied saw the improvement over the years.
“Her sophomore year she had some tight matches that she did not come out on top,” Lied said. “She played a good match, but was not winning. Then as a junior, you could see the switch go on.
“She had a disappointing individual tourney, but when we finished at Team State she came on and beat two girls she lost to - and beat them solidly. She is really amazing and can be a rock star.”
Corwin didn’t hesitate to talk about an important part of her success.
“My demeanor. I miss a shot and it's not the end of the world,” she said. “I'm like 'C'mon Emma let's do this.' Every single points counts. I'm going to go and make it all count. I'm not going to lose my focus. I'm confident in my abilities. I don't need to worry.
“Mental toughness that's what makes my game. I can have the best forehand in the state. I could have the best serve. I can be pretty competitive, but none of it matters if I can't hold my composure and it all gets to my head. If I can't handle losing a game love-40, then I can't handle any of this. You have to be mentally tough. You can't be so emotional. You have to put it aside.”
Being a senior and the Spartans top player, Corwin welcomes the leadership mantle.
“I feel that I've always been a leader - in classes, on the court,” Emma said. “Not just because I'm in the No. 1 singles spot, it's who I am. I want this team to succeed. I know what it takes to get to team state. We've done it.
“During practice I'm trying to get the most out of it. I have fast runs doing our lines run. I'm on time. I want everyone to follow my lead because I know the right path. I think you should follow me because I've done this and I've had success and I want our team to have success.”
Emma remembered when she turned her game around.
“Passion is the leading part of my game,” she said. “When I was in seventh grade I went to a big tennis tournament in Illinois. I lost and lost and I came back and was sitting on a bench with my coach and I was crying.
“My coach asked me ‘Do you love this sport?’ and from that moment the results didn't matter. I kept playing and getting better and better. I do love this sport. It's my passion that motivates me to get better. I don't run fast if I'm thinking how poorly I'm hitting my forehand. I'm running fast saying ‘Go Emma, this is your time, let's do this.’
“But I couldn't succeed if it wasn't for what my brothers and coaches have taught me.”
QUESTIONS FOR EMMA CORWIN
- FAVORITE FOOD: Beans.
- FAVORITE MUSIC/GROUP: Folk, Alternative.
- FAVORITE MOVIE: Stranger Than Fiction.
- FAVORITE TV SHOW: Mad Men
- FAVORITE CLASS: English, Art.
- FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED: France.
- WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX? Music, Take a bath.
- FAVORITE SPORTS RIVALRY/ATHLETE: DSHA, Brookfield Central
- MOST MEMORABLE SPORTS MOMENT: Taking second in Team State last fall.
- WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE? Play tennis in college.
QUESTIONS FOR EMILY HORNEFFER
- FAVORITE FOOD: Parmesan cheese.
- FAVORITE MUSIC/GROUP: Pop.
- FAVORITE MOVIE: Hairspray.
- FAVORITE TV SHOW: Grey's Anatomy
- FAVORITE CLASS: Biology
- FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED: Hawaii.
- WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX? Sleep.
- FAVORITE SPORTS RIVALRY/ATHLETE: Brookfield Central.
- MOST MEMORABLE SPORTS MOMENT: Beat Eau Claire in Team State semi-finals last fall.
- WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE? Teach high school English.