Walking down the family path

Nina Mandell

Justin Hoeveler breathed a sigh of relief as his teammate Chuck Perrin shot the ball over the net to defeat Purdue’s No. 1 doubles team after a long battle.

The 9-8 victory gave the Northwestern men’s tennis team the key doubles point in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

A year ago, Hoeveler would have never expected to be so influential in such a match.

But Hoeveler had completed his rise from a walk-on who was not technically on the roster his freshman year to winning his first doubles match at the No. 1 spot his junior year.

Hoeveler has tennis running through his blood. His father, Charlie, was a tennis standout at Dartmouth College from 1963-1967 and his older brother, Charlie Jr., played at Stanford from 1994-1998.

The Hoeveler boys are also well known for their success in the father-son doubles circuit, where fathers and sons get together for matches across the country.

Despite his upbringing Justin wasn’t a child tennis prodigy. And tennis was far from his passion.

“My earliest memories are not my best memories of tennis,” he said. “I would play and I would lose and get frustrated about it. I would play at these tournaments against these kids who played two hours a day and I had never done that.”

But because his father and brother both loved the sport, Hoeveler stayed with it.

“I’m glad I did that now,” he said.

Charlie Sr. said he tried to instill a love of the game without pushing his sons. When Justin was younger, his father ran Nike tennis camps, a part of his childhood that Justin recalls as some of the most fun tennis memories.

“I play a lot of tournament tennis,” Charlie Sr. said. “It puts a certain pressure on your kids, you want to expose them, but you don’t want to put a lot of pressure on them.”

By high school Hoeveler wasn’t ready to buckle down. He was successful playing varsity tennis, but Hoeveler could never let go of basketball. He was successful in basketball, winning MVP honors his junior year and earning two-time Bay Area honorable mentions.

Meanwhile his brother and father travelled all over the country, winning ten National Father-Son Doubles championships. Charlie Jr. had just come out of Stanford where his team won two national championships.

When Justin was 18, he joined the Hoeveler family tradition of father-son doubles and he and his dad catapulted to a No. 8 Father-Son national ranking. But that was the only notable national ranking Justin received in his high school career.

His father found him a coach, Jeff Wilson, who gave Justin a competitive edge in high school and just enough hope to pursue tennis in college.

“I always thought he could be a good player once he got mentally into it,” Charlie Sr. said. “When he decided he really wanted to play college tennis I tried to help him with the right coach.”

With the combination of the right coach, the desire to play a Division I sport, and being about six inches too short for college basketball, Hoeveler began to look at his options.

Northwestern coach Paul Torricelli worked with Wilson and heard about Hoeveler through the coach.

“Torch was one of the only Big Ten coaches that I talked to who would give me a chance to play and that was a big factor,” Hoeveler said. “I thought it would be a good fit academically also.”

But the opportunity to play wasn’t there immediately. The roster was capped at eight and Hoeveler was number nine. He couldn’t travel with the team or practice with them after the fall.

Though he said Torricelli explained the situation to him before he came to NU, it was tougher than he expected.

“I kind of questioned whether I wanted to see it through,” Hoeveler said. “I never really quit anything I’ve done, anything I’ve been on, so I didn’t really want to start then.”

He started to work with his teammates, assistant coaches, and anyone else who would hit around with him.

Sophomore year Hoeveler made the traveling squad but didn’t see much court time.

Then came junior year. With the graduation of a few key seniors, a spot opened up for Hoeveler.

Hoeveler said that next year he’s hoping to catch a spot in the singles lineup, but with all the starters coming back, he’ll have to fight hard. No matter what happens in the singles lineup, he wants to help improve his team. Either way, Torricelli’s glad he found Hoeveler.

“You only ever really hear about blue-chip players,” Torricelli said. “But its guys like Justin that make coaching worthwhile.”