In a candid interview with Sam Hutner, the president and co-founder of Pickleball at IU, we explore his transition from tennis to leading a top-ranked pickleball team. His journey highlights the growth and community spirit of pickleball, a sport that thrives on inclusivity and fun.
Tennis Roots in Pickleball Play
Sam's tennis background adds a unique flavor to his pickleball strategy, often bringing in baseline plays and powerful ground shots. These quirks, along with his teammates' playful reminders, exemplify the friendly and adaptive nature of pickleball.
A Vision for Community and Competition
With advisor Timber Tucker, Sam is expanding IU's pickleball reach. Their plan focuses on making pickleball accessible to all students, featuring larger play sessions, special events, and maintaining a strong competitive team. Their efforts have led to an impressive team of diverse talents, ready to showcase their skills at the upcoming National Championship.
Looking Forward to Nationals
The club's evolution from a small group to a community of over 500 members is a source of pride for Sam. As they head to the National Championship, the team is grateful for the support from the Bloomington Pickleball Club and is excited to represent IU on the national stage.
Can you share more about your journey from being a tennis player to becoming the president and co-founder of Pickleball at IU?
My buddies and I founded Pickleball at IU to find new people to play with. We had no real intentions of making it as big as it is today. However, it grew and grew. Through managing the club, we have gained valuable leadership experience that would have been hard to find elsewhere. We also have made so many awesome connections with both other students and members of the Bloomington community, like you all. Some of the closest relationships I have made in my three years at IU have been catalyzed from pickleball.
There are a couple of nods to my tennis experience that come out when I play pickleball. One of these is that I like to stick back around the baseline, which does not really work well with pickleball. In tense situations, you can often find me creeping back to try to hit passing ground shots instead of getting to the net. Another one is that when I get excited for a higher ball, I revert back to my tennis swings which causes me to mess up a ton of easy put-aways! If you listen closely, you can usually hear Carter yell “Wrist” at me.
How did your personal experience with pickleball shape the formation of the team?
I think the best quality about pickleball is its ability to connect people. It brought my high school friends and I closer together and has allowed me to create so many awesome new friendships with such a myriad of people. So, I naturally gravitated towards pursuing a team that embodies this.
How are you and Timber Tucker planning to grow the program, especially with the development team of 32 players next semester?
We are pursuing a twofold approach to shape the future of IU pickleball. The ultimate goal is to provide a fun and convenient way to play pickleball. After all, the best part about pickleball is that it is so low-barrier that anyone can play with anyone. To do this, we are working with both IU and other Bloomington leaders to get court space both on campus and indoors. The plan is to provide all students a weekly larger play session and multiple monthly special events like tournaments, networking nights, and social mixers. This will all start this January!
Another one of the goals is to have a strong competitive team. Currently, we fluctuate between the 8th and 9th overall rankings in the country. As of now, we are looking to create a team of around 32 students, ideally 16 men and 16 women. We currently have 9 on the team, including Mehv, Carter, Thea, and I and the new members I shout out later. We will be practicing Monday and Wednesday nights from 8-10pm throughout the semester at the Crimson Pickle. We have nationals coming up this weekend in Atlanta and the collegiate championships in Indianapolis early January.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming National Championship, and how is the team preparing for it?
It is surreal to think that three years ago the club had 20 people. Now, we have over 500 members and are sending a top-ten ranked team to nationals. Since I was a kid, I dreamed of being an IU athlete. It is amazing to see how life plays out. I am blessed to be in this situation.
We have been having 2-3 weekly practices in preparation for the team. We added some awesome new players, shoutout to Connor, David, Jaden, Merin, and Michael. We are excited to see how it all goes down.
Thank you to all the members of the BPC that have been cheering us on. It really means the world to the whole team and I. We hope to make you proud this weekend!
Good luck Hoosiers!
Watch the team play live:
DUPR Pickleball National Championships pool play beginning Friday 11/17
Stream Live from The Crimson Pickle YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/@TheCrimsonPickle/streams
10:00 am IU vs. Auburn
1:00 pm IU vs. Georgia
4:00 pm IU vs. Florida