NORTHRIDGE, Calif. ---
Gary Victor would make a terrible poker player. Sure, the 17th-year Cal State Northridge women's tennis head coach dons the customary hat and sunglasses of any hearty poker veteran, but he has quite the tell: he smiles. A lot. More than most people, Victor is usually beaming about something. And that smile becomes a billboard when he talks about his team's lone senior in 2014, Lorraine Cheung.
Diminutive only in her 5-3 stature, Cheung is a ferocious competitor who thrives in those tense moments that seem to define athletics.
Victor is effusive in his praise of Cheung, calling her one of his best student-athletes during his tenure with the Matadors. With the program putting its first inductee into the CSUN Athletics Hall of Fame, Tereza Simonyan, that certainly constitutes high praise.
"I've had lots of great young women during my time at CSUN, but if I had to choose one for a one match, winner take all match, it'd have to be Lorraine," Victor said. "She has an infectious energy and enthusiasm that is contagious and she is as fierce and dogged a competitor as I've ever come across."
Originally from Hong Kong, Cheung has been a fixture in the Matadors' line-up since becoming eligible. She led the squad with 14 singles wins in her freshman season and earned All-Big West Doubles Honorable Mention honors last year.
This year, Cheung has continued her stellar play as the team's only senior. She enters her final regular season match, an April 20 home contest with Hawai'i, at 12-6 in singles play with notable wins against Ca Poly, LMU, Florida International, Montana, Boise State, New Mexico State and Cal State Fullerton.
"Lorraine has shown herself to be one of the most competitive fighters on our team for the last four years," CSUN assistant coach James Ciuffo said. "We'll miss her competitiveness and desire to strive for more each and everyday."
In doubles play, she has teamed with several players this season to post 11 doubles wins on the year. For her career, Cheung is 46-27 (.630) in singles play and 39-26 (.600) entering Sunday's match with the Rainbow Wahine.
"Sunday's match will definitely be bittersweet. I have loved playing here and competing and have so many memories," Cheung said. "I do not want it to end. Hopefully we play well Sunday and in the Big West Tournament so that we can extend my senior year."
One of her most memorable victories at CSUN came during her freshman season. With the Matadors locked into a Big West Quarterfinal with Cal Poly, Cheung delivered the match-winning point. In video of the victory, a jubilant Victor can be seen crashing the court and bear hugging the victorious Cheung.
When she first arrived on CSUN's campus, Cheung had a fellow Hong Kong native Jennifer Sher to lean upon as she made the transition into college and American life. Now as a senior, it is Cheung who has served as a mentor to Vivian Lin, another Hong Kong native and Mickey Hsu, at CSUN by way of Taiwan.
"I am really close to all the freshmen this year. I think a special bond develops between seniors and freshmen and this year has been special," Cheung added. "In addition to Vivian and Lin, Kristen Poei and Scout Shutter are also pretty far from home being from Hawai'i, and I think the fact that we share that has helped us become much closer. We are great friends on and off the court."
Just as successful in the classroom as she is on the court, Cheung is an accounting major who has earned Academic All-Big West Spring Sports Team honors twice in her career. To qualify for the award, a student-athlete must maintain a 3.2 GPA. With her's hovering around the 3.8 stratosphere, Cheung easily surpasses the threshold.
"Being the only senior, I have tried to lead by example," Cheung said. "I have liked having the leadership role and feel like I have done a good job."
Cheung credits Victor's dedication to the team on and off the court as one of her favorite memories about CSUN.
"Gary is always there for us and cares about each girl on the team,' Cheung explained. "He wants us to do well both on the court and in the classroom. He emphasizes that we are student-athletes and that we need to do well in school so as to set ourselves up for success outside of tennis."
She has interned with several accounting firms during tax season and has also worked as a tutor and mentor for her fellow student-athletes in a variety of subjects. Cheung has a full-time job lined up in October as a staff accountant for a firm in Los Angeles.
So while the thought of an audit may be frightening, the idea that a beaming Cheung will be there to guide you through the process is reassuring. It may even bring a smile to your face.