Samantha (front), Jacqueline (left) and Nicole (right) Svantner have been some of the Cardinals’ best players for years. Now, in their senior seasons, they reach an impasse in their tennis careers and lives as they enjoy their final games at Plattsburgh.
Nicole Svantner reaches for an out-of-bounds New Paltz serve Sept. 30. Samantha wags her finger.
(LtR) Joseph, Jacqueline, Danielle, Nicole, Samantha and Josephine Svantner at Senior Day Sept. 23.
By Collin Bolebruch
Siblings are your built-in best friends. The Svantner sisters have built-in teammates.
Samantha, Jacqueline and Nicole were born in that order. Their friends say anyone could tell you that. The Svantners have come a long way to become the women they are today.
Their parents, Josephine and Joseph, call them their “miracle babies” and “guardian angels.” Born at just 28 weeks, the sisters suffered from health problems at birth, spending time at the neonatal intensive care unit. Jackie was “touch and go,” her parents said. The girls beat the stacked odds.
The sisters, from West Nyack, New York, first picked up the racket at a tennis camp in Boca Raton, Florida. The family spent the summers there, and tennis camp was much cheaper in the Sunshine State.
While the girls retained their skills, tennis was set aside for soccer. They all played, including their younger sister Danielle.
Deep into their soccer careers, the injury bug struck the Svantners. Nikkie tore her ACL, requiring it to be surgically repaired. Jackie suffered multiple concussions, feeling the symptoms for almost a year. Even Danielle was affected, tearing each of her ACLs a year apart.
That was enough evidence for Sammy.
“That was not for me,” Sammy said. “Bad things come in threes.”
Wanting to come out of high school unscathed, Sammy seeked out a non-contact sport. This brought her back to her roots, on the tennis court. She pled her case to her sisters, and they were in.
The triplets starred for Clarkstown South High School, and college tennis quickly became a reality. Joseph gave credit to Ted Mascola, their coach, for bringing out their abilities. The Svantners were never certain they would end up at the same university.
This changed with a successful visit to Plattsburgh. Mascola had a connection with Chris and Karen Waterbury, then co-head coaches of the Cardinals tennis team. Joseph said the Waterburys took the girls in like a mom and dad, really selling the team environment. Good academic programs and the proximity to their condo in Vermont helped seal the deal.
Joseph and Josephine make the trip to watch games when they can, both home and away. Seeing their children on the court, and especially the people they’ve become, is one of their crowning achievements in life. They still can’t believe how quickly they became adults. Just yesterday, they were learning how to swing a racket.
Growing up, the sisters were color-coded by their parents.
Sammy was pink. As a baby, Sammy was often mistaken for a boy, with her stout posture and short hair. Josephine never understood why strangers would think a baby wearing pink was a boy.
Joseph said the triplets were “tomboys” as kids, but now, Sammy’s a “girly girl.” He also said Sammy grew up quiet and “soft,” but now has the sharpness to stand up for herself.
She might be the smallest Svantner, but her attitude makes up for it. Now-Head Coach Kelci Henn calls it her signature “Sammy sass.” When an opponent serves a ball out of bounds, she’s quick to raise her finger and wag it.
“She has that soft wit, that you have to be next to her to hear it,” Henn said. “But when you hear it, it’s like the funniest thing you’ve ever heard.”
Sammy majors in communication sciences and disorders, with hopes to earn a master’s in speech pathology, potentially at another college. Her passion to help treat speech disorders conflicts with Nikkie’s bad speech habits.
Sammy can’t stand it when Nikkie shows gratitude by saying “tank you,” grabs a “nana” for breakfast or orders a “boorito” at Chipotle.
“I don’t care, it’s spooky season,” Nikkie said.
The triplets all live together in Plattsburgh. Sammy can often be found in her room, crocheting, watching every season of Grey’s Anatomy again and again.
The oldest Svantner has found herself in new standing since joining the Cardinals. During her time playing soccer, she felt like her coaches were strict and the girls were cliquey. Here, she said she doesn’t have to worry about that.
Sammy’s invaluable to the Cardinals. Over her years with the team, Sammy has worked her way up to both the #1 singles and doubles position, teaming up with Nikkie. They rarely need to communicate during matches.
While she does have an extra year of eligibility, she wants the world to know she’s retiring after the season. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Nikkie and Jackie don’t want to hear it.
Jackie was green. Since she was young, her parents said she “marches to the beat of her own drum.” While Sammy and Nikkie would wrestle, “beat the crap out of each other” or jump from furniture to furniture, she’d watch from the sidelines. Level-headed Jackie is both team mom and apartment mom.
Jackie has always wanted to be a teacher, like her mother. Over the summer, she was a camp counselor and is completing her degree in childhood education and special education. Like Sammy, she arrived at Plattsburgh shyer and quieter.
Kelci said she’s really come into a leadership position. At practice or games, she can be overheard giving tips and tricks to younger players, uplifting the team. Her soft-spoken nature carries into her interactions with the team, and her teammates said she really feels like a teacher on the court. She straggles behind on road trips to help Kelci and always makes sure everyone on the team is looked after.
“I just try to be a positive influence and just be happy,” Jackie said. “Then I feel like it’ll resonate with everyone else.”
Jackie cooks for the apartment almost every night. If you can smell garlic, she’s making Italian food for her roommates. She’s also into art, bringing home ceramic pieces or helping put on a roommate bonding craft night. Jackie’s always laughing. And she’s sometimes late.
“I call it Jackie time. It’s slower than island time,” Sammy said.
As the middle triplet, she’s a mix of her sisters’ temperaments. Jackie can be hyper like Nikkie or mellow like Sammy. Joseph thinks she needs to pick up a little more of the Sammy sass.
Nikkie was blue. She’s always been extroverted and the first to make friends.
The youngest triplet serves as senior captain. As the most outgoing Svantner, her communication between Kelci and the rest of the team strengthens the team’s relationship.
Nikkie is very open with Kelci and her teammates about how she’s feeling and isn’t afraid to vocalize it. She has her own expectations of the team and Kelci called her “her own little coach.”
Nikkie brings new ideas to the table, like introducing team lifting sessions. Kelci sees a lot of herself in Nikkie.
“Nicole and I were cut from the same cloth. I think a lot of the things she says and does are things I used to do to my own coach,” Kelci said. “Not that I get annoyed with Nicole, but it’s like, ‘oh man, I should have thought of that.’”
In school, Kelci played for the Cardinals and earned a masters in student affairs and higher education. Her experience allows her to take on a more personal role with her players. Nikkie calls her “Mother Henn.” Nikkie says she’s someone she can talk to about anything, whether it be her personal life, school or her pet dog back home.
Nikkie’s been through three majors. She started in biomedical engineering, but that quickly became fitness and wellness leadership, which made sense. Nikkie runs marathons and hosts a weekly yoga class on campus. Eventually, she settled on childhood education and special education, just like Jackie. She took summer classes to catch up.
With an extra year of eligibility, Nikkie and Jackie anticipate to return to the team next season.
No matter what, they’ll always have each other. That’s something they’ve vowed, no matter where they end up in life. It’s all their parents want from them. When they’ve progressed in their careers, moved away from one another and have their own families, they’ll always be sisters and teammates in life.
“They took all the good qualities I have. They took all the good qualities Josephine had. And they mostly avoided the bad qualities. That’s what I’m most proud of. They just became these amazing, well-rounded people,” Joseph said. “I just feel like it’s one of the things that I’ve done right in my life.”