Athlete of the Week: Caroline Kowieski’s Gesture

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Sportsmanship is a virtue taught from the time you first pick up a ball with your brothers, sisters, and peers. Sportsmanship is often overlooked when practiced regularly. In senior Regis tennis player Caroline Kowieski’s case, her act of sportsmanship at the girls state tennis team tournament was of the highest, most honorable degree.

Catholic Memorial tennis player, Lauren Carson, and Regis tennis player, Caroline Kowieski, pose for a picture after their state tournament match.

“I found out my team lost, and it felt like the right thing, so I just went up and held out my hand,” Caroline said.

And by doing so, Caroline forfeited her final high school tennis match, which happened to be in the team state semifinal, ultimately ending her career.

“I was confused by it afterwards, too,” Caroline said. “I was like, ‘How did I just end tennis? Like, what have I done?’”

Here’s why she gave up her match: Caroline’s opponent, Catholic Memorial junior, and #3-ranked player in the state, Lauren Carson, was clearly not 100% healthy and struggling. Caroline, even with a 4-3 lead in the 1st set, took matters into her own hands and allowed Lauren to move on to, and play in, the state team final with her team.

“Caroline said to us, ‘What if I just forfeited? That would allow her to play in the next round.’ The WIAA rule is, if you forfeit a match in the state semifinal, you are not allowed to play in the next match,” Regis tennis coach, Kyle Seyer, said. “It allowed Lauren Carson to rest, get ready for her next match, and she went on to clinch the state championship for Catholic Memorial against Kohler.”

“She could’ve had an easy victory because I was in no shape to continue playing at the best of my ability,” Lauren Carson, Caroline’s opponent from Catholic Memorial in the state semifinal match, said. “She decided to do that as an act of sportsmanship. I’m very grateful for that.”

“I’ve coached over 30 time in the state tournament in both boys and girls tennis, and I’ve never seen anyone as gracious as Caroline,” Jeff Mrochinski, Catholic Memorial’s head coach, said. “The fact that you have somebody who’s 17 or 18 years old making a decision like that is pretty outstanding.”

For Caroline, that decision was simple.

“She was clearly having medical problems, and I, having been injured, have a lot of sympathy for that,” Caroline said. “Once I knew our team had lost the match, there was really no dignity in winning a match against someone who isn’t playing their best, or playing the way I know they’re capable of.”

“As a coach, your 1st reaction is, ‘What?’ The more you step back and think about it in the grand scheme of things, this is a kid that didn’t know if she was going to be able to play her senior year of tennis,” Seyer said. “She was playing in the state semifinals. She had made it all the way back, and that was a goal of hers. She just wanted to go out on top. She went out her way. She went out doing what she thought was the right thing.”

What happened that day in Madison had an impact on not only the outcome of the state tournament, but those watching: Caroline’s gesture had everyone in tears.

“I went over to my bench, and I was kind of crying because it was my last match,” Caroline said. “I turned around everybody up watching was crying, too, and I didn’t realize that’s how it would feel to everyone.”

“I don’t get choked up a lot, and I got choked up,” Mrochinski said. “It was amazing.”

“I know now that I need to carry on her legacy and pass that sportsmanship to someone else if the situation arises,” Lauren said. “It was just truly inspiring.”

Caroline’s career ended without a win or a loss, but she finds a sense of comfort in the way it transpired.

“It’s a very separate memory, and I think that’s kind of a cool thing because I don’t remember it as I won or I beat the girl that couldn’t play the way she would’ve been able to play me,” Caroline said. “It’s just a memory, not a very orthodox memory, but a memory. Driving away from Madison, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m good. I’m okay with it.’”