St. Vincent's Ellis excels as 2-sport standout
Susie Ellis' hoodie got her back into tennis.
Ellis, then a freshman basketball player, was sitting in her theology class at St. Vincent when the idea of being a two-sport college athlete first took shape.
Professor Chris McMahon peeked around his classroom and noticed Ellis' PIAA tennis tournament hoodie. The St. Vincent women's tennis coach asked the three-time state qualifier from Hollidaysburg about her tennis background and pointed her in the direction of incoming tennis coach Jym Walters.
The freshman had regretted not going out for the tennis team. She wanted to make sure she could handle a student-athlete's workload instead of jumping into two sports, but this was the push she needed.
“It's awesome that I go to a small school where I actually have a connection with my professors. I feel like if that didn't happen, I maybe wouldn't be playing,” Ellis said. “I just was really excited, and right then, I started practicing.”
Nearing the end of her junior year, Ellis has successfully navigated the delicate time balance that comes with being a two-sport athlete. She is on track to get her accounting degree at the end of the next year, went 13-2 in singles play and 11-2 in doubles to earn Presidents' Athletic Conference player of the year honors in tennis and averaged 12.2 points as a starter for the Bearcats' 15-13 basketball team.
The YWCA of Westmoreland County took notice, naming Ellis its outstanding sportswoman of the year for individual excellence. Ellis, along with 12 other award recipients, will be recognized at the YWCA of Westmoreland County's 22nd annual awards banquet 6 p.m. Tuesday at Greensburg Ramada Inn and Conference Center. Former YWCA field hockey player and current Syracuse assistant field hockey coach Tara Zollinger, a Hempfield alumna, will serve as the event's keynote speaker.
“I was definitely surprised,” Ellis said of the award. “It was an awesome feeling just to have the support of my teammates and my family and my friends and everyone. They're the reason that this happened.”
To St. Vincent women's basketball coach Jimmy Petruska, the reasons for Ellis' having been recognized are her patience and work ethic. The 5-foot-5 junior spent two years backing up older guards but didn't pout or complain, Petruska said. Instead, she worked to become a more dynamic player, complementing her shooting ability with a more aggressive inside game.
“She's known for shooting, but she's not just a spot-up shooter. She can penetrate, she's a great passer, she's, I think, our second-leading rebounder on our team, and she's 5-5,” Petruska said. “I can use her in so many different areas and ways.”
Her footwork and athleticism translate to tennis, but Walters said he is most impressed with Ellis' poise. She rarely trailed during her junior season, but when she did, she looked for opportunities to make big shots.
“She has that pretty constant exposure to pressure situations, and she does a great job of managing them,” Walters said. “I've coached a lot of great athletes at St. Vincent, but I've never seen Susie rattled. Never, ever once have I seen Susie rattled, and I can't say that about all my athletes.”
A summer basketball league and exhibition tennis soon will take up six days each week in preparation for a senior year Ellis hopes doesn't pass too quickly.
“I'm looking forward to next season, but I don't want it to be over,” Ellis said. “Sports are a huge part of my life, so to be done with it after next year it'll stink, but I'm really looking forward to it, and I want to give it my all.”