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May 12, 2009

Game, set, match - Inga Beermann recently concluded an impressive tennis career at Virginia Tech

By: Matt Kovatch

Inga Beermann
When Inga Beermann went up on stage to accept her strength and conditioning athlete of the year award at the Virginia Tech All-Sports Banquet on May 4, she spontaneously and jokingly flexed her biceps as she posed for the photo, prompting a burst of laughter from the crowd of several hundred. Out of the dozens of student-athletes to receive an end-of-the-year award that night, Beermann was the only one who strayed from the ‘handshake-and-smile’ pose, instead choosing to flash some personality.

To someone meeting the seemingly shy and reserved tennis player for the first time, it was a little unexpected. But to Beermann’s coaches and teammates, it was just the norm.

“I’m really shy until I get to know somebody,” Beermann said. “I always need time to warm up to people, but I’m pretty wild and outgoing once you know me better.”

It’s certainly a long way from where the senior started four years ago as a freshman visiting the Tech campus for the first time.
“During the recruiting process, it was really hard to talk to her,” Tech women’s tennis head coach Terry Ann Zawacki-Woods said of Beermann. “Sometimes you’ll talk to a prospect on the phone and it will be a two-hour conversation, but with her, it was closer to two minutes. It was the same when she came to visit here. She didn’t really say much. To be fair, she was sick and had lost her voice, but she’s very shy until you get to know her.”

Unfortunately for the Hokie Nation, not many truly did get to know her, with the tennis team tucked away by its lonesome at Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center and separated from the rest of Tech’s athletics facilities. But Beermann is well known in tennis circles, having played at the Hokies’ No. 1 position for all four years of her Blacksburg tenure.

Beermann, a native of Bad Salzuflen, Germany, exploded onto the scene as a freshman in 2005-06, winning 29 matches on her way to All-ACC recognition, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association East Region Rookie of the Year award and a bid as the program’s first NCAA Tournament participant.

“I had high expectations, but I didn’t think I would achieve all that I did my freshman year,” Beermann said. “Coming in, there was no pressure – everything was new and exciting. School wasn’t quite as hard and time consuming as it is now. I didn’t know anybody so I just played tennis.”

But it didn’t stop there. The 5-foot-4 right-hander earned All-ACC honors again as a sophomore and All-ACC Academic Team honors as a junior. She then helped the Hokies this season to their best winning percentage since 2002-03 and their best conference finish since joining the ACC. Beermann concluded her career ranked fourth at Tech in all-time singles victories and tied for second in all-time doubles victories. And she’s done all of it while consistently facing the best that each opponent has had to offer.

“It’s very rare, especially in our conference, to have a freshman come in right from the get-go and play at the No. 1 spot,” Zawacki-Woods said. “But to keep that spot throughout the four years is really quite an accomplishment and something that you don’t find in a lot of programs, especially at this level.”

As uncommon as Beermann’s consistent success has been, it only seems fitting considering how random her discovery was by the Hokies. Believe it or not, you can credit Zawacki-Woods’ parents for that.

“It was actually a coincidence,” Beermann said. “Coach’s dad was a teacher in my high school, so that was my connection.”

You see, Zawacki-Woods’ parents live in Hilton Head, S.C., where they teach at a school called Heritage Academy, a place that describes itself on its Web site as a “refuge for teenagers with an extracurricular passion.” According to Zawacki-Woods, Heritage is a specialized school for elite athletes and drama students who need to be flexible with their schedule, but still want to get a high school degree by going to classes like other kids their age.

“It’s just a bit more of a special school in terms of allowing more leniency for training and traveling,” Zawacki-Woods said.

With Zawacki-Woods having been a former All-American tennis star at Wake Forest, her parents had obviously developed an eye for talent, and young Beermann was schooling at Heritage because she was honing her tennis game at the nearby Van Der Meer Tennis Academy.

“It was supposed to be just a one-semester exchange during my junior year of high school,” Beermann said of her time away from Germany in Hilton Head. “But I liked it so much that I extended it to a year, and then I extended it to another semester.

“Then I won the Family Circle Cup, which was a huge success, so some college coaches became aware of me.”

But fortunately for the Hokies, Zawacki-Woods’ parents were already aware of her. Even though Beermann didn’t know much about college in America – German schools don’t offer sports in conjunction with school – Zawacki-Woods quickly pounced.

“My parents were able to tell me about her and what a great person she was,” the Hokies’ now sixth-year head coach said.

“They said that she was a good player, a hard worker and great student. They got me a telephone number where I could contact her, and the rest is history.”

It’s history, indeed, as Beermann has already entered the record books as one of the most successful women’s tennis players in Virginia Tech history. But she’s not done with school yet – she has one more year at a satellite campus in Alexandria, Va., to finish up her architecture degree – and she’s likely not done with tennis.

“I don’t think I could give it up after 15 years of practicing three hours a day,” she joked. “I don’t know to which extent I’ll play because I’ve had shoulder problems for the past year and I’m going to give that a rest for a little bit, but I’ll probably play a couple of times a week. I would miss it too much.”

And with all she’s accomplished at Virginia Tech, tennis would probably miss her, too.

Getting to know … Inga Beermann

Born: 6/23/88 in Salzkotten, Germany

Parents: Gunther (deceased) and Gabriele Beermann

Other sports played growing up: Gymnastics, ballet, tap dancing, horseback riding

Favorite tennis pros: Pete Sampras and Kim Clijsters

Major: Architecture

Favorite courses: World Regions, Environmental Building Systems, and Professional Practice

Toughest course: Concrete Building Structures (“I like geometry better, and it was a lot of calculus. It was almost like an engineering course – it wasn’t design oriented.”)

Roommates: Teammate and fellow senior Jessica Brouwer (That’s probably the hardest part about leaving. I’m going to miss my team. We travel so much and share hotels. It’s a family.”)

Car you drive: Volvo

Favorite food: Everything (“I’m a big fan of food.”)

Last movie seen: Obsessed

Favorite music: Hip hop and R&B – Jay-Z, T.I., Lil Wayne

Something nobody knows about me: “My sister was actually better at tennis than me, but she quit playing at age 16. Playing for fun was always my highest priority, but her goal was always to be No. 1 in the world. She was so serious that it almost took over her life at one point, so she decided it was best for her to give it up.