Behind every Vanderbilt serve and volley at this weekend’s SEC Women’s Tennis Championship will be the thought of a cap and gown.
The Commodores want to perform well enough that they move into the top 16 of the national rankings and – consequently – earn the right to host an NCAA Regional.
“They want to host a regional so that our lone senior gets to graduate,” coach Geoff Macdonald said. “If you go on the road, you miss graduation.”
Courtney Ulery is the only senior on this year’s team, more than half of which is freshmen. Junior Catherine Newman and freshman Jackie Wu are both second-team all-conference selections, and Ulery is the school’s representative on the SEC Women’s Tennis Community Service team.
No VU women’s player since 1998 has missed graduation. Vanderbilt has hosted a regional each of the last 11 years and has finished among the top 16 in the final rankings each of the past 14 years.
This year’s team completed the regular season ranked 19th. A 7-0 rout of No. 24 Kentucky last weekend did nothing to improve the ranking, which is determined by a computer.
“We’re right on the bubble,” Macdonald said. “I thought we’d move up when we beat Kentucky.”
The Commodores (10-7, 6-4 in the SEC) are seeded fifth for the conference tournament, which will be held at Fayetteville, Ark. They will open Thursday against Mississippi State.
With a victory, they will face No. 15 Florida in the quarterfinals. Florida is 21-0 all-time in SEC quarterfinal matches.
“If we beat Mississippi State and then beat Florida, we’ll host (a regional),” Macdonald said. “If we beat Mississippi State and then lose to Florida, I think we’ll be just on the outside.”
The SEC Men’s Tennis Championship also begins Thursday, at Auburn, Ala. Vanderbilt (5-16, 1-10) is the No. 12 seed and will face Alabama in the first round.
NCAA Regionals will be held May 8-10. Vanderbilt’s commencement will take place May 8.
“I used to hide the rankings, pre-internet,” Macdonald said. “They’d come in the mail and I’d just throw them in the trash. Now (the players) know all the rankings and the results.”
Thus, they’re well aware of they need to do this weekend.