Sitting here in my hotel room eating room service, hydrating, and watching Law and Order SVU, I have never felt so accomplished. By participating in the Donovan Showcase today, I not only participated in the tennis version of a marathon, but I also came one step closer to playing college tennis.
In order to be ready to go at 8 for the various meetings I warmed up with my friend Jordan at 7:15. Even at 7:15, it was incredibly hot (anything above 75 is hot for a Seattle girl). We warmed up for about half an hour but then skipped the last part of our warm up to run and check the draws. Jordan was one of the first people to go on, with a 9 o’clock doubles, a 10:30 singles, and a 1 o’clock singles, whereas I was one of the last people to go on, with a 10:30 doubles, 12:30 singles, and a 3:45 singles.
We then checked in for a second time (we were super prepared overachievers that registered the day before). Williams arrived first, then Emory, then Middlebury, then Brown, then William & Mary… and then all 75 of them flooded into the Yale tennis center in Athletic Department issued Nike or Adidas college apparel. And then, before we were done gossiping over which coaches were there and which ones weren’t, it was time for the coach Q&A.
Tim Donovan, the infamous Brown standout who everyone knows, moderated while the panel was comprised of Robert Dallis of Dartmouth, Amy Bryant of Emory and Gregory Wyzykowski of Seton Hall. It was early, especially for us west coasters who hadn’t quite adjusted to the time change, so we players struggled for good questions. Some asked how each coach determined their line-ups while others asked if it was possible to play for a team if one got into the school without coach support. After the Q&A we had a players meeting where, among other things, we received some valuable tips on how to conduct one’s self on court. Once the short player meeting wrapped up we went back on the main court for the introduction of all the players and coaches. Then play began with doubles.
Unlike most junior tournaments, we were assigned partners rather than choosing our own. I was a little nervous about playing with someone I had never met before in front of coaches from my top schools, but my nerves quickly vanished when I realized I received an awesome partner, Julia Keenan. Although I had never met her before, she turned out to be a rockstar volleyer with a great slice serve. Thus, we got off to a great start, getting up 4-1, and then continued our streak to close it out 8-4.
After completing our doubles match of the day, we were dispatched to one of the million courts at the Yale tennis center to play a two-out-of-three-sets singles match. It was actually incredibly hot by then (even the Florida girls agreed with me) so we not only had to deal with the pressure of having coaches watching, but also with the heat. Most of us managed to avoid cramping up but some weren’t so lucky. I ended up winning my first singles match 6-2, 1-6, 10-4 but the pressure of having top coaches watching definitely affected my level of play. I served well and conducted myself like a top diplomat, but the thought of an Ivy League coach watching made me over think everything. Thus, easy forehands ended up ten feet out while overheads became lodged in the net. But it was a great learning experience because it reminded me that pressure can only affect my game if I allow it to do so. This lesson proved valuable in my second match when I glanced to the fence to find a ball and found at least five coaches watching my match. At first I began to freak out and tighten up (I have never been a calm person), but I quickly remembered my first match and decided to take the match one point at a time. My level of play quickly improved and I managed to pull out an 8-7 win (the second singles match of the day was an 8-game pro-set). Not only did this strategy help me avoid embarrassing myself by tightening up and shanking every ball, but it definitely impressed coaches as they saw that I can handle the pressure that comes with college tennis. Looking back, it was an awesome experience. By approaching everything as a learning experience, I was able to showcase my game and impress some of the top coaches in the country (the three new emails in my inbox say it all). I still have a half a day left though so it is off to bed for me.
I survived the Showcase! Day two was way better than day one. Not only did we only have one singles and one doubles, but we weren’t nearly as nervous as we were on day one because we were used to coaches watching our matches.
Day two started much like day one did: with a 7:15 warm up. Most of us were sore from yesterday so, as you can imagine, a lot of stretching occurred before we hit the courts. But unlike the day before, we did not attend any meetings and started doubles at 8.
As we were all used to coach attention after three matches, round two of doubles was a lot more relaxed than round one. We started making those easy forehand volleys that we missed the day before because we were so nervous and started to become accustomed to playing with a new partner.
Singles was the same story as doubles: most of us played better than we had the day before. I played my friend, Tiffany, and every point we played was a million times better than the best point I played the day before. But we were all exhausted from day one so points were typically shorter than those of the day prior.
As everyone knows, the Showcase provides a venue for coaches to watch players and for players to learn more about college tennis and the recruiting process. But most don’t know that a college player (or soon to be college player) attends every year to give junior players a college player’s perspective. This year, Sophie Panarese, a recent Milton Academy grad and a rising Georgetown freshman, was lucky enough to assume the role of resident college player. Yesterday, she was frequently surrounded by parents and players seeking to gain insight and build connections, but as college recruiting fervor died down, she could be seen sitting alone making additional name tags for the guys.
So after my singles match, I quickly began Sophie scouting until I found her helping Hope Rupley at the registration desk. I was extremely nervous because I wanted to make a good impression but I somehow garnered up the courage to introduce myself. To my surprise, she wasn’t tired of answering questions and offered to talk with me in a more private setting.
I have no idea why I was nervous to talk to Sophie. She is legitimately one of the nicest people I have ever met. She answered every question I asked and even suggested that we talk at Clay Courts later this month.
After talking to Sophie, I attended a short presentation from an Admissions Counselor at Tufts on admissions for athletes. I already knew most of the information (as I had met with Coach Bayard, the head women’s coach at Tufts, earlier this year) so I left early but his presentation was a great overview of the admissions process for athletes. He quickly disproved the myth that great athletes can get in anywhere, even if they aren’t great students, and reminded players that admissions counselors do look to see if you’d be a good fit for the school.
Although exhausting, the Showcase was a fantastic experience. I had the opportunity to showcase my game to coaches I’ve been communicating with and others I’ve never met and learned everything I needed to know to successfully navigate the recruiting process (Not to mention I finally learned how to pronounce Allegheny and Quinnipiac).
Donovan Tennis Strategies
Donovan Tennis Strategies has been helping prospective college tennis players and their families navigate the recruiting process since 1997. In addition to consulting services DTS runs two College Prospects Showcases to help players get exposure to college coaches.