Posted on 08 October 2014.
The Indiana Wesleyan University women’s tennis team won the Crossroads League Tournament Championship last Saturday, Oct. 4 against Marian University 5-2.
But one of the team’s most valuable players, Gabby D’Aniello (jr), didn’t play.
D’Aniello wasn’t injured, nor was she sick. Rather, she encouraged her teammates from the sidelines, just as she had all season. D’Aniello was a member of the 10-person travel team, but rarely played in the team’s contested matches.
“She has influence on this team that transcends the position she plays,” head coach Eddy Shigley said.
Gabby D’Aniello (jr) practices Wednesday, Oct. 1 to help her teammates prepare for the Crossroads League Tournament.
Ten years ago, it would’ve been hard to picture D’Aniello on IWU’s women’s tennis team, much less alive.
When D’Aniello was 10 years old, doctors discovered she had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks the immune system. She went through four months of chemotherapy, spinal taps and surgeries.
What would have happened if D’Aniello’s cancer went unnoticed?
“I wouldn’t be here,” D’Aniello said.
The treatments cured her cancer, but D’Aniello still couldn’t play any sports involving lots of physical contact, including soccer, which she played before the cancer came. That’s when she started taking a shine to tennis.
“None of the other [non-contact sports] really interested me, and my dad liked playing tennis, so it gave us something to do,” D’Aniello said.
She continued to play tennis growing up, and from her history with cancer, she developed another passion: nursing. When it was time to make a college decision, IWU wasn’t on her radar at first.
“I didn’t want a Christian school. I wanted to get out of my bubble,” D’Aniello said. “But I looked into their nursing program, and it was one of the best ones I could find.”
D’Aniello talked to the women’s tennis head coach at the time, Terry Porter, and she knew that IWU would be a good place for her. She decided to attend the university as a nursing major.
Thanks to the opportunities it created for her, D’Aniello said she doesn’t treat her experience with cancer as a negative thing.
“I still have to go in for checkups just to make sure it doesn’t come back, but most of the impact the [sickness] has made has been positive,” D’Aniello said. “I wouldn’t have chosen to study nursing without it; I probably wouldn’t have started playing tennis. Even with my relationship with God, some of the ways I’ve seen him work in my life because of [the cancer] has made God more personal for me.”
Now, D’Aniello plays an integral role on IWU’s women’s tennis with her godly character.
“Her attitude is unbelievable,” said Shigley. “She always has an upbeat, positive attitude. She’s a super encourager and she has this love for life.”
D’Aniello’s teammates also recognize her influence on the team. Courtney Siepman (jr) roomed with D’Aniello during their freshman year and developed a great respect for how much she read the Bible, but more importantly, how she lived out her faith. Siepman added D’Aniello’s work ethic is fantastic.
“She always tries her hardest,” Siepman said. “It’s a tough spot to be in, but she still works hard even though she might not actually play in the match.”
Mikayla Marazzi (so) added D’Aniello is a great comforter on match days.
“When I’m upset after a match, Gabby’s the person I go to. She’ll give you a hug and tell you it’s okay,” Marazzi said. “I think she’s that person for a lot of people.”
While she isn’t part of the regular lineup, Shigley said D’Aniello is still a fantastic tennis player. IWU’s depth of talent just keeps many very good tennis players outside of the scoring lineup.
“She provides a real consistency, whether through her return of serves, her serves, whether it’s her net game, she’s just really, really consistent,” Shigley said. “At almost any other team in the [league], she would be playing either one, two or three for them.”
But even D’Aniello realizes what she provides is mainly off the court.
“I don’t think my greatest contributions are necessarily on the court,” D’Aniello. “I think it’s just me being there for the girls and being someone they can talk to.”
Shigley concluded his team would certainly not be the same without D’Aniello, without someone who provides all the intangibles needed for a successful team.
“Every team needs a Gabby D’Aniello. They’re a solid player, but they don’t crack the lineup, and yet the team respects them because of their integrity, their leadership, their spiritual vitality,” Shigley said. “What Gabby brings to this team is priceless.”