Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way.
Booker T. Washington
The hashtag on the Vanderbilt Women's Tennis twitter account is #FIGHTDORES, and there are a major number of super welterweights on this phenomenal tennis team that swept through and won the SEC regular season, the SEC tournament and just finished winning their first 2 matches in the NCAA's last Friday and Saturday to qualify for another Sweet 16, the 18th in the program's history under Coach Geoff McDonald. No super welterweight punches any harder than the awesome Fernanda Contreras.
Fern is not only ultra talented, she's a different kind of player. She doesn't play the typical college game, the power baseline game. Instead, she favors the technician part of the game, the mental part. "When I play an opponent who doesn't hit a low ball well, I'll slice it to their knees and below, and if an opponent doesn't hit a ball above her shoulders well, I'll hit a higher, heavier ball," she says.
It's paid off for this amazing junior on the Number 2 team in the country that aims for a second national championship in 4 years, with the first coming in 2015. Fern is ranked number 10 in the country, and has posted a 15-4 record this season. But she doesn't dwell on her overall record, or how well she's done this season. To Fern, it's about the "process."
That may very well come from her grandfather and her parents. Her grandfather, Poncho Contreras, won the NCAA doubles championship at Southern Cal and made it to the semifinals of Wimbledon in the mixed doubles. He was the captain of the Mexican Davis Cup team. Fern lived in Austin, Texas from 6th grade on up , but her roots are in Mexico. Her dad, Javier, was a top 300 player in the world and played on the Mexican Davis Cup team. Her mother, Magda, is a computer science programmer, and highly supportive of her daughter.
"They're an amazing family," Coach McDonald said. "To give you an idea of what kind of family they are, I didn't know this till last season, her sophomore year."
McDonald says it's awesome to watch Fernanda, a Mechanical Engineer with a 3.4 GPA, approach tennis.
"She's just a vibrant, curious, loves to learn, loves to compete type person, McDonald says. "She's upbeat. She's been blessed with a great disposition and personality.
"She wants to be good. We started out today thinking we were only going to go 45 minutes and ended up on the court for 2 hours. She was asking 'what about this shot, what about working on this. How about this.' Those are the kinds of kids you love. They're just passionate about tennis. That's who she is."
Fern says when it came down to a college decision, it was down to three choices, Vanderbilt, Rice, and Yale. That probably tells you what kind of student and person she is.
"My first visit was to Vanderbilt, then Yale, then Rice, " she said. "I wanted a school where there was a personal relationship with the professors, the tennis was good, and I liked the people on the team and at the university."
When Fern took her visit to VU, she was waiting on Coach McDonald to pick her up and was reading The Fault in the Stars." Coach McDonald drove up and saw her reading and started talking about books to her.
"He reads 2 books a week, it's amazing, Fern says of her coach. "He was an English Literature major at Virginia and loves Hemingway. He talks all the time about Hemingway. He's an amazing guy."
Geoff also played number 1 on the UVA team and was an All ACC player. Pretty talented guy. And that commitment to excellence has reverberated throughout this team. Fern is one of the best example of that commitment to excellence.
"She'll keep working hard, she's an incredibly hard worker," McDonald said. "She can get to be a player who gets close to playing in the Grand Slams and can play in them."
She's also quite an engineer. Fern and her roommate had a project in an Engineering class in which they created a ball picker upper.
"We tried it out in our room picking up different things and it worked, she said. "I was super happy."
The great Fernanda Contreras and her teammates take their next step in the process, as they travel to Winston Salem, North Carolina Thursday for the NCAA Championships. We are the overall Number 1 seed in the NCAA's and we play No. 16 Miami, FL Thursday at 3 PM CT. The match should be streamed on vucommodores.com
The future looks super exciting for Fern, but she's taking it one step at a time. That's her character. That's who she is.