Break Point: Sydnie Binder '22 MFA '24 Rediscovers Her Love For Tennis

NCAA Division III 50th Anniversary LogoThis story is part of a series of stories celebrating the 50th anniversary of NCAA Division III and the 25th anniversary of Pacific University becoming a full Division III member.


Sydnie Biner Playing TennisThe pinnacle experience for most college-bound athletes is the opportunity to play at the Division I level.

The highest profile of the NCAA’s three divisions, Division I is where big-time football lives. It is where March Madness plays. It is where the most professional athletes matriculate from. And it is where Sydnie Binder ’22 MFA ’24 was bound as a tennis player.

Upon graduation from high school, Binder’s path seemed clear. A two-time prep state champion in both Idaho at Boise's Borah High School and in Oregon at Beaverton High School, the Binder family had established a legacy of attending Boise State University. While she had not been offered a scholarship, she was good enough to play Division I tennis.

So Binder became a Bronco. By the end of the year, though, she questioned her decision.

“The amount of school that I missed in the spring was just outrageous. I couldn’t be a student and an athlete at the same time,” said Binder, who amassed a 12-11 singles record and regularly played in the No. 5 and No. 6 flights as a freshman in 2019. “I love the sport and I’ve always wanted to work really hard at it, but it came to a point where I was not loving it anymore.”

After taking some time to consider her options, Binder decided to move back to Oregon to play for and attend Pacific University where her mother, Traci, had spent the last three seasons as the head women’s tennis coach. While coming home was not part of the plan, the university and the NCAA Division III philosophy of athletics supplementing the educational experience helped her rediscover her love for the game.

“I would say that Sydnie found the right balance when she got to Pacific,” said Traci Binder, who is now in her eighth season coaching the Boxers and played collegiately at both the Division I and Division II ranks. “After that, she has done all of the work to put her in the position that she is in today.”

At Pacific, Sydnie Binder has flourished on the court. A three-time First Team All-NWC selection, she is nearing 100 career victories at Pacific in singles and doubles. Undefeated so far in the spring 2024 season, Sydnie advanced to the singles final at September’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Pacific Northwest Championships and combined with her sister, Cassidy Binder ’25, to win the tournament’s doubles bracket.

The sisters have combined for six First Team All-NWC awards, making the duo the most decorated players in program history.

The Binder Family: Sydnie (left), Traci (center) and CassidyWhile Sydnie Binder is an exceptional tennis player, she has also been an exceptional student. Graduating with a degree in education and learning in 2022, she is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Writing, with concentrations in poetry and fiction, while playing her final years of college tennis. The program’s remote learning environment has made the balance of school and sports easier.

But it has also made Sydnie stand out. Pacific’s MFA program attracts older writers to the program and rarely sees a student matriculate directly from undergraduate studies. The worlds of creative writing and college athletics rarely mix, making Sydnie a bit of an enigma to her classmates and instructors.

“The creative writing world and the sports world are weird when they come together. It’s not common at all,” Sydnie said. “It’s a funny thing to try and explain. People think what I am doing is so unique. It’s weird to get that out-of-person experience where people think what I do is not normal, because I live it day in and day out. It seems normal to me but to the outside world, it is not.”

According to her mother and coach, Sydnie needs little motivation to excel, whether on the court or in her studies. “Commitment to academics isn’t something that I have to put too much energy into with Sydnie,” Traci Binder said. “She has always handled herself well in the classroom. With her MFA work, it is her passion, so she is thriving.”

Sydnie hopes that pursuing her MFA will open up doors as she decides what her career path will be. She is writing her first novel, which she describes as a modern twist on a classic fantasy. She would like to teach, and an MFA degree opens the door to possibly teach at the college level.

She sees coaching in her future as well, but she plans on taking a break from tennis after her collegiate career ends in May. Sydnie believes that she needs the break, both mentally and physically.

It’s not that she doesn’t love the sport anymore. Transferring to Pacific and playing at the Division III level taught her to love it again.

“Division III has allowed me to attain things that I just would not have been able to at the Division I level,” Sydnie said. “Division III gets overlooked a lot, which is sad. I never will because I have lived and thrived in the Division III athlete experience.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2024