Courting Success

Yvonne Niederbracht

Yvonne Niederbracht has enrolled in medical school in her native Germany, bent on becoming a healer.

It’s an ironic choice, given all the suffering she caused while at IUP.

Niederbracht repeatedly punished opponents on the tennis court, especially during a senior season in which she claimed the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference singles championship, posted a 22-1 record, and was named the PSAC Player of the Year.

“Winning states was really something that I didn’t count on at all,” said Niederbracht, who defeated Slippery Rock’s Jessica Bungo 6-2, 6-4 in the final. “It seemed like everything was going against us.”

Niederbracht not only overcame Bungo, the tournament’s top seed and the only player to beat her this year. She also overcame a bit of chicanery on the part of Bungo’s coach. Niederbracht toiled for two and a half hours on a sweltering afternoon to dispatch Kutztown’s Kerstin Kloeffer—a fellow German—in the semifinals. Bungo, conversely, was handed a free pass to the final by arrangement, with teammate Ashley Michaux conceding their semifinal match.

So, while Niederbracht labored, Bungo did nothing more strenuous than swivel her head as she followed the action.

“I’m almost lying on the ground after the match, I’m so tired, and Bungo is sitting next to the court, smiling,” Niederbracht said. “Then, I had to play again right away. Usually, you get an hour between matches to relax. But the Bloomsburg coach, who was the tournament director, said he wanted me back out there in half an hour. It was like everything played against us. So going out there and winning was pretty impressive.”

“She can determine pretty easily where a person’s weakness is and pick on that weakness.”

That adjective neatly sums up Niederbracht’s career at IUP. She finished with 101 victories—a 49-7 record in singles and 52-8 in doubles—and earned All-PSAC first-team honors in each of her three seasons (Niederbracht studied in China as a junior). Her twenty-two singles victories this year and nineteen wins in doubles with senior Jackie Kulp established school records.

So, what made Niederbracht such a dominant force with a racket in her hand?

“Yvonne’s number-one attribute is her court sense and just her smart tennis playing,” said coach Tony Medvetz, who led IUP to the winningest season (18-6) in school history and a third consecutive NCAA tournament berth.

“It’s not her physical conditioning, it’s not her physical strength, it’s not even her strokes, although they’re good, clean strokes. What made her a champion—what makes Yvonne the player that she is—is she can determine pretty easily where a person’s weakness is and pick on that weakness. And she’s so even-tempered. You can’t rattle her. She’s also very focused on the court.”

Off the court, too. Niederbracht compiled a 3.77 grade-point average as a biology and pre-med major, was named to the Dean’s List all six semesters, and was selected as a recipient of the PSAC Top 10 award, which recognizes achievement in the classroom and in athletics. Niederbracht clearly hit the books as hard as she hit forehands and backhands. In fact, tennis ranked second for the player ranked first in the PSAC.

“Looking back, I probably could have compromised my education more and put more effort into tennis, improved more on my game, and maybe made All-America or something,” Niederbracht said. “But it was very important to me to balance sports and academics. I don’t regret having done it that way.”

Even while punishing opponents on the court, Niederbracht’s sights never once wavered from medical school. Call it a delicious twist of irony, for the player who caused so much suffering while at IUP will devote her life to healing.