When she first stepped on campus more than five years ago, Mallory Cecil was a talented junior looking to improve her tennis game at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy/IMG Academy.
When she returned to IMGA this week after a stellar freshman year at Duke University, she holds a prestigious title -- NCAA Division I women's tennis champion as a singles player and as a team member.
Cecil helped Duke defeat the University of California-Berkley for the team title last week and beat Laura Vallverdu 7-5, 6-4 for the singles title on Monday.
Back resting at her old stomping grounds, Cecil talked about her ultra-successful season, her future and fellow NBTA alum Devin Britton winning the men's singles title also as a freshman this year.
On two Bollettieri alums winning as freshmen... We were actually talking the night before the finals and saying how crazy it would be if we both won it. Two Bollettieri kids, who are both freshmen, as champions? That's pretty awesome. We're really pumped for each other. Yesterday, after the match, he called me and was like, "What's up champ?" I said, "Yeah, what's up champ?"
On the postseason tennis grind... Out of all of the tournaments I've ever played, the NCAAs were undoubtedly the toughest to get through. In 11 days, I played 10 matches. Sometimes there were singles and doubles matches in the same day. It was grueling. I said after I won yesterday, "I feel like I should have another match tomorrow." I'm just in match mode. It was good, though, to keep my momentum going. I'm so ecstatic with the semester that I've had. I couldn't have asked for more. It's been absolutely unbelievable.
On her post-championship happenings... I think it's hitting me more today that I actually won because I'm returning e-mails and phone calls and saying thanks to everyone. Yesterday, I was just so physically and mentally drained. Friends whom I haven't even heard from in years have been texting. My dad's been getting phone calls from his buddies who were actually watching on television. It's just been really nice to see all of the support.
I DVR'd the match and watched it today and it is the first time that I've ever heard people commenting on my play, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. The little critiques or the compliments - it's just so cool to hear that. They said some really great things that I really took to heart, and I was honored to hear them say it.
On training at IMGA for more than five years... I'm a huge fan of this place. I really feel that this place and these coaches have helped me become not only the tennis player I am, but the person I am. I feel like I can talk to the coaches like my family. They're so supportive. I love it here. I've grown up here. I definitely feel like this place has shaped me into what I am today.
On adapting to team play... I didn't know what to expect, because I had never played on a team before. Going in to college in January, I wasn't sure, but they were a great group of girls. I had the easiest transition. I felt accepted immediately. The girls on my team became my family. We did everything together. I can't tell you how many hours we spent together off the court. I just fell in love with that team and college tennis.
On not losing a set during singles play in the round of 64... I didn't even realize it. Once we won teams, I was physically and mentally drained. At that point, though, I thought we were extremely match tough. Maybe we were a little fatigued, but being match tough we had momentum and nothing to lose. We had won the team title and not many people were expecting us to do much in singles, but I love being the underdog.
On her immediate and long-term future... I'm going to take a week off without touching a racket. I'm not really burned out, but I'm just on such a high right now that I want to enjoy it for a little bit. I've only seen my mom and sister once in the last four months, so I'm going to enjoy it. Turning pro is going to be heavily discussed this summer. I'm going to see how the tournaments this summer go. But I've set up everything by planning on going back to college. Why not enjoy playing in college? At the same time, can I top what I did this year?