Bellevue finds hep in championship
By Lukas Bachmann - Staff Reporter
Bellevue College was able to win this year's NWAC Women's Tennis Championship with the help of a former professional player.
Chiaki Yoshikawa, 22, a Japanese tennis player with experience on the Japanese professional circuit, showed up on Bellevue's roster April 15, the day after the Thunderbirds had beaten them for the first time in team history.
At the NWAC championship, Yoshikawa won No. 1 singles over Highline's Amila Gogalija, who had lost only one league match all year.
Despite the season starting back in February, current NWAC rules allow a student-athlete to enroll in an NWAC member college within 20 calendar school days from the beginning of the quarter to participate during that quarter.
Spring quarter began April 2 which means a player would be allowed to join as late as April 27, a mere eight days before the championship.
After joining the roster late, Yoshikawa only competed in three matches before the championship and in each match, she played a different position.
In her first match, Yoshikawa played the No. 6 single, the lowest position on the roster.
The second match she played the No. 3 single and her last match she played before the championship, she was in the No. 1 spot.
Although Yoshikawa had played professionally overseas, she was allowed to participate in the NWAC due to looser rules on eligibility than other college sport institutions, like the NCAA and the NJCAA.
According to NWAC rules on amateurism, an athlete may compete on a tennis or golf team with individuals who are competing for cash or comparable prizes, provided the athlete does not receive payment of any kind for participation.
Because the NWAC found no evidence that Yoshikawa had earned any money during her professional tenure, they allowed her to participate.
Meanwhile, in the NCAA and NJCAA, something as minor as playing with other professionals can disqualify an athlete from participation.
Jim Jackson, the NWAC's compliance manager, was unaware of Yoshikawa's professional history even after the championship had taken place.
"This is certainly new information for me at this time. I am looking deeply into this situation at this very moment," Jackson said.
Marco Azurdia, the NWAC's director, was initially quoted saying that he believed that Yoshikawa was enrolled at Bellevue at the start of Spring Quarter.
"Absolutely the Bellevue College tennis player was enrolled within the NWAC guidelines. Eligibility is checked prior to each tournament and the player was on the eligibility list provided and reviewed by our office," Azurdia said.
"I was quite aware that she was eligible, and I attended the first day of tennis championship and had with me the tennis eligibility list," Azurdia said.
The NWAC women's tennis league is quite small, consisting of only five schools so most coaches knew about Yoshikawa and her background right away.
Wally Heidenson, Spokane's head coach and NWAC coach of the year, said that he did not mind Yoshikawa playing this year.
"As long as she met all the requirements to be eligible I have no problem with her being added late or playing No. 1 for Bellevue this year," Heidenson said.
Bellevue's Head Coach Jason Chapman did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
However, Athletic Director Jeremy Eggers said Yoshikawa was eligible.
"In past year's we have had student-athletes from other countries wanting to play tennis at Bellevue and we have found that they made money overseas and did not allow them to play at Bellevue, so we have had some experience with these types of situations," Eggers said.
John Dunn, Highline's athletic director said he does not like the NWAC's current rules on professionalism.
"Those rules need to be adjusted. Adding someone in the last minute is not in the spirit of what we are doing. The player who gets player of the year needs to be adjusted as well," Dunn said.