KOHLER – Victoria Powelson hails from Ishpeming, Mich., but judging by her proud smile late Tuesday afternoon, the top women's tennis player at Lakeland College feels quite connected to Sheboygan County.
"This is amazing," said Powelson, a sophomore. "To help the community while I'm playing the game I love is a really special feeling."
Lakeland shut out Wisconsin Lutheran 9-0 on a bright, crisp afternoon to finish 11-2 and cap its best season ever. But as the match wound down, much of the discussion was about the Muskies' fund-raising effort for Safe Harbor of Sheboygan County.
The players' final donation will exceed $2,000, and next week, Lakeland's entire team will make the short drive from Lakeland's campus to Sheboygan to present Safe Harbor with a check.
"Community service is extremely important," said Lakeland senior tennis player Erica Hoffmann, a Sheboygan Falls native. "Young people have so much potential to help their communities, because they have so much idealism and enthusiasm. It's crucial to tap into that energy."
For the past week, that's exactly what Lakeland's tennis players did, collecting pledges for Safe Harbor – a refuge for victims of sexual and domestic abuse. Supporters of the players had the option of making a flat donation or pledging a certain amount of money for each game won. Earlier Tuesday, a couple of players set up a table at Lakeland's dining facility so fellow students could make pledges.
"We grabbed every kid we could," said Powelson. "I think we raised about $400 just at lunch. And even the students who couldn't make a pledge were very supportive of what we were doing."
Added Hoffmann: "The really cool thing I've noticed is how willing people are to give to a worthy cause. This brought our whole school together. The faculty really got involved, and we had a large number of students out here today cheering us on."
Even before the afternoon's first serve, the pledged total, based on flat pledges, was $817. Lakeland's dominant performance raised that figure significantly and steadily into early evening.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team," said Lakeland College head coach Casey Carr, a former Sheboygan North and Lakeland standout tennis player. "This wonderful group of student-athletes is really making a difference in our community.
"Today was a perfect example of what we are supposed to teach young adults. It wasn't just the tennis team that raised the money. It was the students, the faculty, the professors and the athletic department. This is what Lakeland College and being a liberal arts college is all about." Lakeland College Interim President Dan Eck, who attended the match, said he was extremely impressed by the players' philanthropic spirit, but not surprised. "This is the type of student Lakeland attracts," he said. "They think about more than just themselves." Laura Roenitz, executive director at Safe Harbor of Sheboygan County, said community donations make up more than 50 percent of the nonprofit organization's budget. She added that this contribution will be used to support direct client services such as providing food and shelter, and that because food and shelter supplies are running low, "This could not have come at a better time."
Last year, Roenitz said, Safe Harbor of Sheboygan County served 664 individuals and 464 households and supplied 4,000 nights of shelter for direct and indirect victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse.
"We are thrilled with the results, and this really demonstrates these young women's tremendous commitment to our community," said Roenitz of the Lakeland tennis team's effort. "It's not only a great example of their community stewardship, but also speaks highly of the education they're receiving. It is clear to me that connecting students to the community is very important at Lakeland College."
On the court, these are the best of times for Lakeland's women's tennis team. Just 1-36 from 2006-2011 and 6-7 last season, the Muskies are now surging. They were predicted to finish eighth in their conference this fall, but locked up second place with Tuesday's win.
Young standouts like Powelson and fellow sophomore Lynn Pipke, along with seasoned players like Hoffmann and fellow seniors Brittany Jurek and Jenna Oberthaler, have the program surging under the steady coaching hand of Carr.
On Tuesday, Powelson won her No. 1 singles match 6-0, 6-0 over an opponent who hadn't previously lost in conference play. But after her win, the player who likes to be called "Tor" seemed more proud of her team's contribution to Safe Harbor than her own dominant performance.
"Helping others is huge," she said. "Giving back is so important. I can't wait to do this again next year and I think we will do even better."
If you would like to contribute to Safe Harbor of Sheboygan, call 1-800-499-7640