Photo by Josh Wenger/Nebraska Communications

Physical Changes Help Reifeis Improve

By Brian Rosenthal

Claire Reifeis, a junior from Indianapolis, is 19-6 (8-3 Big Ten) in singles play this spring for the Nebraska women’s tennis team. Playing out of the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the lineup, Reifeis is 10-3 at the No. 1 spot and 9-3 at No. 2. In doubles play, Reifeis is 15-6 (6-3 Big Ten) while playing with two different partners. She’s 2-0 with fellow junior Hayley Haakenstad and 13-6 with freshman Jessica Aragon. Nebraska fell short of qualifying for this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament in Lincoln, but Reifeis, in this question-and-answer session with Brian Rosenthal, says she’ll still be watching.

BR: How do you deal with the disappointment of your team hosting, but not qualifying for, the Big Ten Tournament?

Claire: “It hurts a lot. We’re not going to lie. It does hurt. To not make the Big Ten Tournament on our home court, when it only happens once every 10 or 15 years, because it rotates around the Big Ten, it sucks. I watched them put up all the Big Ten stuff up this week, and I was like, ‘Wow, this hurts more than I thought it would.' But things happen the way they’re meant to happen. This is a really good learning experience for us. We’ve got to learn from this. That’s just the way it is. I’m going to watch. I think it’s good to be around it so we know what we’re missing, so it doesn’t happen again.”

BR: How has your personal game developed and improved during your time at Nebraska, and why?

Claire: “I think if you looked at me when I came in my freshman year, compared to where I am now, I’m a completely different person. I’m a lot more fit than I was freshman year. I changed my diet and lost 20 or 25 pounds. I’m a lot faster, fitter. So just from that perspective, I’m a lot different. And then my game is a little bit different, especially how I’ve developed this year. I’m working more on getting more balls back.”

BR: Throughout all of that, what’s the strength of your game now?

Claire: “I would say my biggest strength is my forehand. It’s my favorite shot. Every ball I hit, I want to hit a forehand. I don’t care if it’s in the corner. I want to hit a forehand. I’m willing to be in points for a really long time now. But I’m also willing to take advantage of anything my opponent will give me, so if they hit me a short ball, I’m willing to go up and take advantage of it. I don’t care as long as I win the point.”

BR: Which do you enjoy playing more, doubles or singles?

Claire: “They’re just different. I like both. Doubles, you have someone to help you out, but I’m a really independent person, so I like singles. I like, ‘OK, it’s all on me.’ If I lose, it’s on me. I can deal with that. But in doubles, it’s different because you’ve got two people. I mean, they’re both good for different reasons. But they’re completely different.”

BR: You had a couple of different doubles partners this year. Is there any adjustment to that or is it not that big of a deal?

Claire: “Yeah, there really is an adjustment. I played two years with Hayley Haakenstad, and we live together, we’re really good friends. For two years, we were really in sync. I know exactly where she’s going to hit the ball, when she’s going to hit it, how she’s going to hit it. So then I switched with Jessica Aragon, and she’s a great doubles player, too. I love playing with her as much as I love playing with Haley. But they’re different types of players. Jessica has a little bigger of a serve. She’s left-handed, too, so that’s a big adjustment. I like playing with both of them for different reasons. They’re both great doubles players and I’m lucky to play with both of them."

BR: Who’s your favorite opponent in the Big Ten?

Claire: “Like, who do I like playing the most, or who do I not like the most? (Laughs) I like playing the best teams, because it’s the best competition. You get to play the best and see how you measure up against them. I’m going to go watch the Minnesota team just because they have a lot of girls from the Midwest who I grew up playing with. I’ll probably go watch the finals, too, because I’m curious. We all know each other."

BR: Have you played other sports, or is there a sport you’d like to try someday?

Claire: “I played basketball when I was in middle school and I was absolutely awful. I think I scored five points in two years. I was terrible, but I loved playing it so much. I mean, I was absolutely awful. I’m a tennis player. I’m very good at tennis. But if I could play another sport right now, it would be basketball or softball. I like swinging the bat."

BR: I understand you like to read. What’s your favorite book you’ve read that you would recommend?

Claire: “Ender’s Game. I mean, my favorite series is Harry Potter but my favorite book is Ender’s Game. I think I’ve probably read it 20 times and it gets better every time. It’s just the most intriguing book I’ve ever read. It’s so out there and wild. It’s science fiction, about child prodigies and aliens … and, OK, it’s weird, but I love it.”

BR: What’s your favorite thing to do in Indianapolis, some place you would take a visitor for the first time?

Claire: “I would take them downtown to Monument Circle. It’s different. Not very many downtowns have that center, or spot, in the city. I don’t go there that often, but I think it’s a really cool place to take a tourist. If I was going somewhere by myself, I’d probably go to my high school courts and hang out with my friends.”

BR: It’s a year away, but what are your plans after school?

Claire: “I’m double majoring in finance and actuarial science. I want to work in the banking industry, probably. I don’t know what kind of job I want yet. That’s the area I’m looking for. I either want to go back home to Indianapolis or go to Texas. I have a little bit of a direction, but not that much."

BR: How did you decide on Nebraska?

Claire: “I was originally committed and signed to Drake. And then the coach left, so I decommitted and I asked her for help finding another school. And she pointed me toward Denver University and the University of Nebraska, and I was not really into football growing up. I didn’t really understand that Nebraska was a five-time national champion. I didn’t understand why that was a big deal. So I didn’t really think Nebraska was that important in my life at that time. So I went on those two visits, and Nebraska absolutely wowed me. It was in February so I didn’t even go to a football game. But just the team, and the academic center is so special, the athletic department – I had never seen anything like it. I picked Nebraska, and it was the best decision of my life. I would not change it for the world. This place is so special. It’s amazing. And now I understand that football is a big deal here.”

Reach Brian at or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.


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