Nolan Paige still remembers the name of the high school senior who used to give him, then a 10th grader, a ride home from basketball practice.
“He was one of the best players on the team and it was cool because he was so inclusive,” Paige recalled. “David O’Brien.”
Six years have passed since Paige, now a senior on Stanford’s men’s tennis team, savored time spent with his older (and therefore cooler) high school teammate. But that example of kindness remains a powerful memory for Paige, who, as a senior, has found himself in the position to be a new “David O’Brien” for underclassmen on the team.
While Paige’s leadership is informal, fellow senior Maciek Romanowicz holds the title of team captain. Paige and Romanowicz are the two seniors who have regularly played in Stanford’s six-person match lineup this season, typically with Paige at the No. 3 or No. 4 spot and Romanowicz at the No. 5 or No. 6 spot. Paige and Romanowicz have contributed singles and doubles wins to some of Stanford’s biggest victories this season, namely sweeping Oregon 4-0 in the first round of the Pac-12 Championships last week and defeating Washington 4-1 on April 9.
While Stanford has notched its best results in the last month, leading up to the NCAA Championships on May 13, the team first had to grapple with a series of tightly contested, disappointing losses. Stanford suffered four nail-biting 3-4 losses, all to top-30 ranked teams, over the first two months of the regular season. This is where Paige and Romanowicz have made their most meaningful contributions: in off-court and behind-the-scenes moments, helping their team recover mentally from tough losses and stay motivated.
“The most memorable part about those losses is how those guys come back in practice the next few days,” sophomore Tom Fawcett said. “Two days later, when you see someone like Maciek coming into practice early and working as hard as he possibly can, it’s really motivating to get back out there and forget about the loss.”
The rest of the players in Stanford’s top-six lineup this season, besides Paige and Romanowicz, are freshmen and sophomores. That bodes well for the program’s potential in coming years, but it also means that this season has partly been about younger players transitioning to college and simply gaining experience. Romanowicz, as captain, has placed emphasis on reaching out to younger players as they juggle the demands of being a student-athlete. The acts might seem small: arranging to get lunch with an underclassman or taking the time to ask, genuinely, how a teammate is doing. But with student-athletes juggling both their sport and a full course load, it’s an example of Romanowicz going out of his way to support his teammates.
“Nothing that was ever suggested by me,” said head coach Paul Goldstein. “Maciek took it upon himself and is as empathetic a leader as we could have.”
Putting others before oneself came up often in conversations about the team’s leadership, and Paige and Romanowicz reinforce that ethos in their actions.
In terms of individual results, Paige has had a challenging season, with a record of 15-15 overall and 8-10 in dual matches. He has battled through 16 three-set matches, the most of any Stanford player this season. However, Paige said that, over his collegiate career, he has learned to not let wins or losses overshadow his experience as part of the team.
“[Paige] is always very positive,” Fawcett said. “He always wants what’s best for you, which is really nice as a teammate and a friend,”
Paige will attend Vanderbilt Divinity School beginning in August, where he hopes to prepare for a lifetime of serving others.
“I really just want to help people, by having conversations and stuff,” Paige said. “It seems like the right next step.”
When asked to describe his leadership style, Romanowicz demurred speaking about himself, saying that his teammates should be the ones to judge how well he served them.
“It’s definitely an honor and a pleasure to be able to support the guys,” Romanowicz said. “But I feel like everyone is a leader at different points in practice and the year, so it’s not only me.”
While Romanowicz is humble when talking about himself, he is anything but passive when on the court or enthusiastically cheering for his teammates.
Fawcett is familiar with Romanowicz’s energetic on-court presence, as the two have been regular doubles partners over the last two years.
“He’s always trying to pump you up and moving his feet on court,” Fawcett said. “He pumps me up when I need to be, and I think I try to calm him down when he gets a little too energetic sometimes.”
Romanowicz has been accepted to Harvard Business School and plans to work at a microfinance startup in San Francisco for a period before beginning school in Cambridge. He is looking forward to returning to the Farm and cheering on the team from the sidelines as an alum as long as he is in the Bay Area.
Yet the thought of no longer representing the Cardinal on court is bittersweet and even strange. Romanowicz still has NCAA Championships ahead, and he is determined to make the most of his final few weeks before graduation. He thinks his favorite memory from this season is yet to come.
“I hope the favorite memory is still ahead,” Romanowicz said. “In college tennis, it’s really hard to keep 12 individuals as one team, and I think we’ve done a good job of it. That’s not a moment, but the whole process [is something] I’ve really enjoyed.”
Contact Alexa Corse at corsea ‘at’ stanford.edu.