Vanderbilt Women's Tennis Coach Geoff McDonald just clinched the regular season title and the SEC Tournament title. That's some really amazing stuff with as tough as this conference is. The team played indoors all weekend as it was pouring in Nashville. And they excelled. This was Geoff's second SEC tournament title. He won his other in 2015, the year we also won the national championship. I spoke with Geoff this morning about the greatness of his players and what it means to accomplish this.
DW: How does it feel to be SEC regular season champions and tournament champions?
GM: We're tired, but we're on Cloud 9 at the same time. It's a long season, it's a lot of travel and a lot of competitive strategy, but I'm blown away by the achievement of these young women, they're really something.
DW: What made this group so mentally tough throughout the season and now into the postseason... so far?
GM: We play everybody, we play a really hard schedule. First of all, it starts with who they are as people. We try to recruit really high character, really competitive kids. And they may not be the top 10 recruit often, top 20 recruit, but they're so tough that with a little bit of fine tuning and work that toughness is gonna in the end prevail.
DW: Geoff, what were some of the key matches in the semifinals and the finals?
GM: We won at 1, 2 and 3 both days. (Astra Sharma, Sydney Campbell and Christina Rosca respectively). And the thing is, when you see a dual match you realize the level of play at 5 and 6 is not much different from Number 1. All these teams are so good and deep. But the key was nobody failed to show up. Everybody....you know we talk about their 9 positions, 3 doubles and 6 singles, and we knew if all 9 showed up and competed we'd be OK. We told them if we don't focus on winning, but just competing, we'll take our chances.
DW: Did you have any particular player or 2 or 3 who really were leaders throughout this weekend?
GM: Astra Sharma did a really good job, so did Sydney Campbell up at the top. They were actually roommates their first year. Astra redshirted that first year. Sydney had a good first year but was also injured. They kind of grew a lot in their four years. Sydney Campbell was the SEC Tournament MVP. She was down 3-1 in the 3rd yesterday and won 6-4, so she won 5 of the last 6 games against a good Florida player. They showed some really, really good leadership as did Georgina Sellyn (redshirt senior), who is our first player to be a graduate student.
DW: How long do you enjoy this and at the same time start thinking about the NCAA's?
GM: We've got kind of a break now. We don't play for another 16 or 17 days because they (the NCAA) break for finals. And it's a really good thing for Vanderbilt players because we don't even touch a racquet now. We do a little light conditioning later in the week, but we need to rest and study, and I go on the road recruiting tomorrow morning. The thing about an achievement like this, and we told them this after the regular season, that this can never be taken away from you, you always have it forever. And then we'll get ready for the NCAA Tournament, but I think it's important to savor this for a few days, just look back on it. I was saying to myself during the match, that I'm so amazed how this team is competing, it was a great dual match, beautiful to watch.
DW: With the academic pressures of Vanderbilt, as tough as it is, it's pretty phenomenal they can do this kind of stuff. Do you agree with that?
GM: It's unbelievable. In recruiting I say you're going to an Ivy League school and you're playing professional sports. And wow, that's a lot. But it's also kind of a Heaven on Earth for the right young person. These people are wired to try to excel in the classroom and excel on the court. And there are people like that. I marvel at them every day.
DW: When is the Selection day for the tournament and do you have any idea of where we'll be?
GM: We should host the first two rounds here. We're going to be really close to being one of the top 2 seeds. Then if we advance to the Sweet 16, it's in Athens, GA.
DW: Is there a day when they'll pick the teams, make the selections?
GM: Next Monday or Tuesday. There are still some conference tournaments to go, Big Ten and Big 12, maybe ACC too.
DW: You might be the No.1 or 2 seed overall?
GM; Yeah, we could be.
DW: I know personally it's got to be huge satisfaction for you?
GM: You know it is. I've done this a long time and we've had some special kids. We've come close to doing this and haven't gotten this, so I know how difficult it is to achieve, what this team is achieving and I'm appreciative of it very much.
DW: Who would be ahead of us in the national tournament as far as seeding goes?
GM: It could be Florida. Believe or not, I don't follow what is going on nationally much. I just concentrate on what our job is in front of us and that's all.
DW:So you've got some recruiting to do?
GM: Yeah. I'm going to try and get some sleep today and get going tomorrow.
DW: Is it a 365 day a year thing?
GM: Maybe 362, I might take 2 or 3 days off. To get the right kid, you really have to do your homework, and you really gotta find out the intangibles, and if we do a good job of that, we can compete with anybody. So we're really careful, picky and do our homework.
DW: Is Astra coming back next year? (Note*** Astra is a redshirt junior)
DW, Finally, Geoff, what kind of preparation was this tournament for the NCAA's?
GM: The best preparation possible.