By Bill Sorrell
Going, Going, Gong
A friend of Stephanie Gong, with whom she played tennis in high school, made her laugh by telling her that she was “going, going, Gong.”
If Gong’s senior year is as productive as her last one, she may be “going, going, Gong” to the NCAA Division III tennis tournament again.
The No. 1 singles player on the Lynx women’s tennis team, she advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2004 tournament hosted by Rhodes.
“It was the best performance I’ve had in a national tournament. I’ll never forget it,” she said.
Gong has been an individual qualifier in the national tournament since she was a first-year student. Following her junior season, she was ranked seventh in the nation by the International Tennis Association, a steady climb from 28th her first year and 12th, in her second.
Gong was the 2004 Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year, the Rhodes Student Athletic Advisory Committee Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2004 and an All-American in 2003 and 2004. She is the only All-American on the Rhodes team. She’s been All-SCAC three years.
She quit swimming lessons at age 11 to focus on tennis, a sport she has been playing competitively since she was 14.
“There’s nothing better than the thrill of competition. I love it. You are never out of a match. It’s completely unlimited,” she said.
Gong’s endurance and quickness have provided an edge that has worn down opponents. She plays a steady, solid baseline game with a feature on finesse more than power.
“My serve is the weakest part of my game,” she said. “I win matches by knowing I can stand out there longer.”
Hennessy Howell, a senior from Vicksburg, MS, who is co-captain along with Gong, said, “She can stay out there for days. She knows how to keep her stamina up.”
Howell, who attended Vicksburg High School, played against Gong before the two became teammates. Gong played at Jackson (Mississippi) Prep, which won the overall state championship her first year there.
Howell has watched her own game improve by observing Gong’s patience.
Colleen Forsyth, a junior from Chattanooga and Gong’s doubles partner, calls Gong “cool and collected. On the court, she’s very athletic. She’s inspiring.”
Gong collected her victories—she was 20-5 last season—as a “grinder,” said Rhodes tennis coach Sarah Hatgas.
“I’ve never had anybody with the footwork and anticipation of Stephanie. She is probably the consummate practice player. I’ve never had anybody practice and compete as hard as she does.”
Gong has not let success go to her head, said Howell.
“She is one of the best players in Division III, but she doesn’t carry the cockiness and big head like a lot of players do. She never tries to make anyone feel that she’s better than they are.”
Hatgas has encouraged players to “throw egos out.” She has instilled a team concept, reminding players that each position, whether No. 1 or 6, counts one point.
Gong has a 3.66 grade point average in biology. She plays the piano, taught tennis at Jackson Country Club over the summer and volunteered at Blair Batson Children’s Hospital of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
When Stephanie introduces herself, she says that her last name is like “The Gong Show.”
“It’s a fun last name,” she said.
McKinney′s Work a ′Bonus′ for Lynx Football
While working in the business and strategy support system of a Memphis bank, Joseph McKinney ’05 learned how to crunch numbers.
Tracking financial information and entering it into a sales system, McKinney helped calculate incentives that led to employee bonuses.
McKinney, a senior business administration major with an international focus, worked as an intern at First Tennessee during the 2004 spring semester and as a full-time employee this past summer.
He provided bank managers with “any and all necessary tools to perform at the highest level,” he said.
McKinney, an offensive guard on the Lynx football team, was not performing at the highest level when he was a freshman.
Numbers were crunching him. While running the 300-yard shuttle run for the first time in pre-season camp, he couldn’t finish.
“I came into camp out of shape. To say the least, I was overweight. The shuttle run was terrible. Guys were laughing at me. Coach E (offensive line coach Gordon Ellingsworth) stopped timing me,” said McKinney. “I’ve come a long way since then.”
McKinney is one of seven offensive starters returning from last year’s 7-3 team, which finished third (4-2) in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
With three years’ starting experience, McKinney has become a pillar of consistency and provided “a cornerstone of motivation for younger players,” said Rhodes head football coach Joe White.
“He can do the right thing in the heat of the battle,” said White.
“From the time of his arrival to now, Joe has made improvement in leaps and bounds.
We’re very proud of Joe McKinney.” Rhodes quarterback Daniel Swanstrom ’05, has also watched McKinney’s metamorphosis.
After watching McKinney fail the freshman conditioning test, Swanstrom thought, “This guy’s not a hard worker.”
But he’s turned into one. “He’s done everything it takes,” Swanstrom said.
“His work ethic has improved every year, and it’s been phenomenal this year.”
McKinney (6-2, 285) has learned to play a “less-than-glorious” position, he said, because of his hard work and ability to push himself to the limits. He was an offensive tackle his first two seasons before being moved to guard his junior year.
Inspired by the potential White and Ellingsworth have seen in him, McKinney said, “I haven’t always seen what they have seen in me.”
McKinney is one of the team’s strongest players, bench pressing 340 lbs. and squatting 510 lbs. He has focused on improving speed and quickness.
An Academic All-SCAC, McKinney has been playing football for 10 years. He played at Memphis Central and won the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame scholar-athlete award his senior year.
McKinney, who has worked for the AAA Memphis Redbirds baseball club for six years in children’s entertainment and in security, looks to the football field for his just rewards. “I get a reward when I know I’m working hard and that encourages someone else to work hard,” he said. “I didn’t get a (bank) bonus. My reward for performance is winning.”