Case Western Reserve University senior women's tennis player Nithya Kanagasegar has been selected as the first recipient of the ITA Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award, endowed by Billie Jean King.
Kanagasegar will be honored by the ITA as part of the ITA Arthur Ashe Jr. Weekend in August in New York City. She will receive a specially-engraved gift in addition to a post-graduate scholarship. The ITA will also donate $1,000 to the Case Western Reserve University tennis program.
"I am grateful to the ITA, Coach Lebedeff and Billie Jean King for creating this award to recognize a distinct group of student-athletes. To even be selected as a finalist for this award was quite an honor, so to have won the award is truly incredible," said Kanagasegar. "I am excited to apply the scholarship to help me pursue my dreams of becoming a doctor, and I look forward to seeing the gift to my alma mater as a way to help future tennis players at CWRU."
"Throughout my career at CWRU, I have often thought to myself about the legacy that I wanted to leave behind as a student-athlete," said Kanagasegar. "I had big ambitions of awards to collect and titles to win. However, as I reflect on my four years, I realize that while I am proud of those awards, I am most appreciative of how tennis has shaped my character and given me the opportunity to impact our athletic community. I cannot thank my teammates, coaches, friends, and family enough for their support, without which none of this would have been possible."
The ITA Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award was created to honor a recent college graduate who played college tennis and demonstrated excellence on and off the court, leadership on his or her team as well as on his or her college campus and in his or her community. The annual recipient of the award will have demonstrated grit (i.e. passion and perseverance towards long-term goals), a commitment to social justice and equality and will have pushed others to be leaders in addition to demonstrating his or her own leadership.
Kanagasegar communicated her concerns with discrimination and injustices to CWRU Director of Athletics and Chair of Physical Education Amy Backus and moderated the first Sustained Dialogue group in the country specifically for student-athletes to eliminate any future issues. She assisted with sponsoring on-court events to either raise money for or to directly interact with local youth to provide them with tennis, health, fitness, literacy and creative expressions programs (such as Inner-City Tennis Clinics (ICTC). Through her experiences in higher education, she learned the significance of striving for social justice, and has been fortunate that tennis has provided her with a way to transform her community and encourage equality.
"I am so pleased that Nithya has been selected to be the inaugural recipient of the ITA Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award," said Lebedeff. "Nithya epitomizes her commitment to leadership on her campus and her community by moderating the first Sustained Dialogue related to discrimination and injustices on campus. This was the first Dialogue on a college campus specifically for student-athletes in the United States. Additionally, Nithya has assisted in sponsoring events in her community which have aided in raising money and promoting interaction with local youths. I congratulate Nithya for her unselfish efforts in addressing problems on campus and promoting youth projects within the Cleveland area. I wish her the best of luck with graduate school and believe she has a bright future ahead."
Kanagasegar and freshman Madeleine Paolucci became the first All-Americans in the history of the women's tennis program with a win in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Division III Doubles Tournament in Claremont, California. The duo ended the season with a 23-9 mark in doubles play together, matching the program record for doubles victories in a season. Kanagasegar leaves the program as one of the top players in its history. She is the all-time leader in doubles wins with a 76-32 career ledger, and is third in school history with a 56-48 singles record. Kanagasegar is the only Spartan women's tennis player to date to be named the UAA Most Outstanding Performer, accomplishing the feat during the 2016 campaign.