Ingrid Neel spent this past school year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. There, the Rochester 15-year-old tennis standout worked with world-renowned camp instructor Nick Bollettieri as well as other tennis professionals. Also attending the academy for tennis was Ingrid's brother, 11-year-old Harry Neel.
Ingrid takes classes on-line, while Harry will be attending a Montessori school. Ingrid and Harry lived off the IMG campus, in an apartment with their mother, Hildy Neel. Bryan Neel, their father, also spent considerable time there.
This was your first time spending an entire school year away from home at a tennis academy.
Was it a difficult decision to go?
Ingrid: I figured that one day I was likely going to a tennis academy in my teen years. I had been traveling to IMG since 10 years old. Last year just felt like the right timing to make a move for me and my family.
What was your first impression IMG Academy? Did that change much over time?
Ingrid: When I got there for the first time, I said to myself, 'This is the Big Time.' There is a ton of energy here. This was the place that some of the best players got good. Sharapova, Seles, Agassi, Haas. I would love to be among those names some day. IMG keeps expanding its offerings and improving its facilities. It just keeps growing and getting better every year, sort of like the athletes that go there.
You'd struggled with a back injury (inflammation of the growth plates, an injury that's expected to go away once she stops growing) before you left for Florida. How is the back feeling these days?
Ingrid: I am glad to say that my back is not much of an issue anymore. It took a good year to heal. Keeping up with and progressing with my off-court training and rituals was probably the key. The IMG Physical Therapy staff took over where Rochester professionals and friends at Mayo, Active PT and the Rochester Athletic Club left off.
What was a typical day for you, from the time you got up until you were home for the evening? What was your routine? Ingrid: I wake up and immediately head to the courts for a three-hour tennis session. I work with Nick Bollettieri daily, usually one-on-one. Otherwise I play in a group with mostly high-school age boys (some things never change). Tennis is followed by fitness for an hour in an awesome gym. I then head to the cafeteria with my friends. I head home for school, or a nap. I also play piano or guitar once a day.
In what ways have you seen your tennis game improve after your year in Florida? Ingrid: Every aspect has gotten a little better, especially my strength and fitness. I know I am improving because I am constantly testing myself in matches and sizing myself up against other players who are improving.
How much pressure is on the young athletes at IMG Academy? Do most of them seem happy to be there?
Ingrid: I can only speak for myself. Pressure is the wrong word. I have a strong desire to see how far I can take my game.
Many of the athletes at IMG Academy are living in dorms there. You were in an apartment with your family. How important was that to you? Also, what did you and your family do for fun there?
Ingrid: I am grateful that I can still be a kid off the court, and let my mom and dad take care of me. I see that I had less responsibilities than my boarding student friends. I could focus more on tennis and have fun with Harry and Rafa, my brother and sister. We went to the Gulf beaches and pool a lot. It was a great winter weather-wise.
You've been in Rochester this summer, and will returning to Florida in early September. What are you most looking forward to about getting back to IMG Academy?
Ingrid: I am most looking forward to being back in a community of tennis players. All of the athletes at IMG are dedicated to getting better at their sport. It is a contagious attitude. I love it.