For the first time since 2003, Vanderbilt University will host a men’s and women’s NCAA regional. Women’s head coach Jeff McDonald sat down with us courtside to tell us a bit about his background, their season and what we can expect from the tournament.
McDonald has been a fixture at Vanderbilt for 20 years. Prior to coming to Vanderbilt, he coached at Duke and LSU. Jeff was also a successful player, rising from juniors to play at University of Virginia and then a 3 year stint on the pro tour. He traveled throughout Europe and South America and played in the US Open in doubles.
He jokes that he had a rather unusual introduction to tennis. McDonald was headed for a little league baseball game when he and his mother were involved in a car accident. Mom was injured and couldn’t take the tennis lessons she had signed up for. Jeff was persuaded to step in for her, and he was hooked.
Jeff said he was captivated by the game. Not only was the sport incredibly challenging, but he loved the community aspect of it. “I saw that there is a community of tennis players of all ages, and that I needed to do more than just hit the ball hard to be a good player. I had to learn different styles of play appropriate to different opponents.”
It was during his college career that Jeff feels he really developed as a player. “It was a different era. I didn’t have a personal coach, and there was no real training. You just played and learned as you went. ” It was that sense of development in college that drew Jeff to coaching at the college level.
Jeff is immensely proud of his women’s team. “This team has shown toughness. They have done well in school. They have handled themselves well and really grown over the year.” The team really has worked together to win. They have beaten teams in the top 25 without having a singles player in the top 50 and a double team in the top 20.
When asked how he keeps his team up during a long season, and for such an important tournament, Jeff responded “These players have DRIVE. They are motivated. Good recruiting makes a difference, and I don’t have to worry that these players won’t work hard during the season and off. The challenge for me is that each player is different and needs a slightly different coaching approach. Part of the joy of college coaching is seeing each person develop to a point where she is playing fearlessly.”
Jeff hopes that the great Nashville tennis community will show up to watch the tournament this weekend. It is a chance for players of all ages and abilities to see a tremendous level of play. Players of any level can come out and learn from the top college players in the country. “One of the best things about this tournament is the intimacy of the venue. There are not a lot opportunities where fans can be so close to a college player during a match, and be able to see and hear a player in action.”
Vanderbilt women’s team will open play against Murray State Friday, May 9th at 1pm. A win there will put them in position to play a crucial regional final (4:00pm on Saturday) against the winner of Georgia Tech vs Purdue. Georgia Tech just beat Duke, who was the number one team in the country at the time.
Vanderbilt Men will also be hosting the Regional NCAA’s the second year in a row. They play their first match Saturday, May 10th at 1pm against Virginia Tech. The men will be led by All-SEC honorees Gonzales Austin and Ryan Lipman. Ryan Lipman who is from Nashville is playing in his last matches at home. He has distinguished himself for many years as a standout.
Let’s get out and support our home teams and help them get to the Sweet 16! Go Dores!
Tickets will be available for fans the day of the event. Adult tickets are $5, youth and student tickets are $3 with children under two years of age getting in free of charge.
Fans are encouraged to park in the 25th Avenue garage via the Highland Avenue entrance. The garage is located directly to the East from the Currey Tennis Center.