Photo: Jeffrey Camarati/UNC Athletics

Meet Ben Sigouin, a 21-year-old exercise and sport science major at the University of North Carolina (UNC) who also happens to be a captain on the best college tennis team in the United States.

Oh, and did we mention the best part? He’s Canadian!

Ranked No. 1 in the Oracle ITA Rankings, the Tar Heels are flying high in the NCAA with Sigouin – from Vancouver, BC – as one of their key players and vocal leaders.

“It’s an honour to have that role, have people look up to you and listen to your voice in meetings,” Sigouin said of his captaincy in a recent phone interview with Tennis Canada. “It’s pretty special.”

Now in his senior year, the Canadian is well-versed in the life of a student athlete. Playing as part of a team is never an easy adjustment for freshmen who are used to playing tennis as an individual, but Sigouin believes there’s a camaraderie in college sports that forges great friendships and memories.

Photo: Jeffrey Camarati/UNC Athletics

“It is a little bit of a transition for sure,” he began. “But once you realize and you buy in that you’re playing for something bigger than yourself and that the team comes first – that type of mentality – I think it’s a bit easier. Obviously, tennis is an individual sport, and that’s never going to change, but it’s nice to have some of your closest friends and brothers to train with every single day.”

“I think it is [like a family atmosphere],” he continued. “At UNC, we have a saying that ‘it’s the Carolina family’ and our family runs deep with all the past players. Brayden Schnur has played at Carolina so I keep in touch with him now and then. These are brothers. We spend almost every day together for most of the year so you have a great relationship with them.”

You need only look at the list of accolades on Sigouin’s UNC tennis roster profile page to see why he’s considered one of the staples of Head Coach Sam Paul’s men’s team. It includes honours such as being named a two-time first team All-ACC in 2018 and 2019, 2018 ACC Freshman of the Year and 2020 ITA Carolina Regional Player to Watch.

Photo: Jeffrey Camarati/UNC Athletics

It takes great players to make a great team – but the Tar Heels aren’t just a powerhouse in tennis. In fact, UNC is one of the top colleges across all sports in the NCAA. And Sigouin has enjoyed bonding with the athletes from various rosters whilst on campus, highlighting their relatability.

“I think one of the cool things about going to UNC is that we have a lot of good sports teams,” he said. “The field hockey team is No. 1 in the country, the women’s soccer program is No. 1 in the country and right now the men’s and women’s tennis teams are No. 1 in the country as well. We have built special relationships with all the players. UNC is also known for its basketball and it’s just really cool. We’re good friends with them and before COVID would hang out with them. You can relate to all those people who work hard at their sport and you want them to do well.” 

In February, Sigouin and his teammates accomplished a long-time goal of theirs in clinching the ITA Indoor National Championships title. In doing so, the team became the first since 2000 to win both the men’s and women’s events in the same year. It was an extremely proud moment for the Canadian, who describes it as one of the highlights – if not the highlight – of his college tennis career so far.

“We know we have a really good team and the year before we had lost in the finals to USC and going into that final we had such high expectations, we were so overwhelmed by the time the matches started,” said Sigouin, who won both his singles and doubles match in the final. “It didn’t go our way and we were so disappointed. This year, when the finals came around, our mentality was so much different. We had already been here before, we knew what to expect and nothing was going to stop us. It was so cool. I had a really good day and I was really proud of what I did and, as a team, we’d been waiting so long for this.”

Photo: Jeffrey Camarati/UNC Athletics

So far in our NCAA spotlight series, you’ve read Liam Draxl and Alexis Galarneau sing the praises of college tennis and explain why they think it’s such a viable and beneficial route for players to consider. Sigouin is no different as he details the many upsides of life in the NCAA:

”First of all, there are so many resources that you have access to. I have a great strength coach, I can see an athletic trainer for free every day if I want to. If you’re on the pro tour, you just don’t have that access. I think another reason why players are picking school, in every sport, is that careers are getting longer, people are peaking later. All of a sudden, you see guys, they’re not playing their best tennis until they’re 28 or 30 years old. I think I have the game to play on the pro tour, but a lot of guys aren’t ready physically or mentally to play. It’s not a big deal if you start playing pro tournaments at 21 or 22.”