There’s no place like home.
Even though Hannah Blatt didn’t click the heels of the red shoes three times, she nonetheless likely felt the same way.
Blatt experienced a bit of a circular journey early in her four-year college career, but for the past three seasons, she’s been back at home on the comfort of the courts of the Vanderbilt women’s tennis team.
Blatt and her Vanderbilt teammates open NCAA tournament team play against Indiana Friday at Knoxville. Barring any upsets, they will play host Tennessee on Saturday.
Blatt, who plays No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles for the 28th-ranked Commodores (13-10), signed with Vanderbilt following graduation at Father Ryan High in 2006. At Ryan, she was a two-sport (tennis and softball) standout.
The step-daughter of Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin, seemed like an excellent fit for on West End Avenue.
“I wanted to go to a great school, and Vanderbilt fit that,” she said. “Freshman year was pretty overwhelming, and I started to have doubts that I could make it academically.”
After one year she transferred to Oklahoma.
“It seemed like a really good place,” she said. “I liked the coach and the players on the team. The coach said they had a spot they needed to fill, and I wanted a different direction. I didn’t want to sit out, which I would have to by transferring to an SEC school.
“I was there only a month (in August) and had barely started school, and I realized I wanted to return home. It was nothing against Oklahoma.”
Hitting the books
So it was from Norman to Nashville, from Sooner-land back to Music City for Blatt in time to start her sophomore year.
She didn’t play that season. Instead, she caught up on her grades and wound up making the academic honor role.
“I realized I was lucky to be at a school like Vanderbilt,” she said. “I worked hard, and the past year, I made the Dean’s List with a 3.5 average.
“Coach (Geoff) Macdonald was so patient, he welcomed me back and was so respectful of my situation. He’s very motivational, without a doubt.”
Said Macdonald: “She’s someone who just keeps on trucking. I’m happy for her. She’s a smart player and she’s had a great senior year. She played just outside the lineup last year, but she’s played very well at No. 6 this year.”
She also has the benefit of a household steeped in athletics. In addition to Corbin, there’s her mother, Maggie, who was an All-American at College of Charleston.
“We’re grateful that Geoff Macdonald gave Hannah the opportunity to attend Vanderbilt, because he certainly took a chance in doing so,” Corbin said. “Without this opportunity, Hannah never would have realized her full potential academically and athletically.
“Maggie and I are proud of how she’s carried the spirit of what a Vanderbilt student-athlete is all about. She persevered, she stayed loyal to her teammates and she competed at a high level on and off the court. Most of all, she embraced the people of the university and everything that it had to offer her.”
Learning from defeat
Blatt said the low point her senior season was losing her match at South Carolina, the clinching point in a 5-2 Vanderbilt defeat on April 4.
“I hated that, because it was on me,” she said. “Coach Macdonald and I had a heart-to-heart talk after that, and I was determined to pick up my play.”
She went undefeated in SEC matches (5-0, including 2-0 in the SEC tournament) after that.
“I take pride on being consistent, and words used to describe me are ‘perseverance’ and ‘tenacity,’” Blatt said.
Blatt and fellow senior Catherine Newman are very close.
Newman made All-SEC and was the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year. Newman and sophomore Jackie Wu were recently invited to the NCAA singles tournament.
“We (she and Newman) try to be good leaders, especially to the young players who are going through the same situation we did as freshman,” Blatt said. “I love being a mentor in that regard, giving them advice.”
Last week, Blatt was named the Vanderbilt recipient of the community service award.
“I was on game tracker, and I happened to see that – pretty cool,” she said.
She’s disappointed that she won’t go through graduation line during ceremonies Friday at Vanderbilt. She will be with her team on the courts in Knoxville that day instead.
Blatt already earned her degree in Human and Organizational Development last December and has entered graduate school, which she plans to finish next May. This summer, she plans to work as a tennis intern in Newport, R.I., site of the Tennis Hall of Fame.
“Afterwards, we’ll just see where life takes me,’’ she added.
At least she knows she can always go home.
NCAA TENNIS REGIONALS AT A GLANCE
Friday, 9 a.m. – vs. Indiana; 1 p.m. – UT vs. Winthrop.
Saturday, 1 p.m. – Finals.
Saturday, 10 a.m.—vs. Virginia Tech; 2 p.m.—Louisville vs. E.Kentucky.
Sunday, 1 p.m.—Finals.