Freshman Mallory Cecil is the No. 1 singles player for the Duke Blue Devils
© Duke Photography
Mallory Cecil was named the ACC Rookie of the Year
© Duke Photography
Mallory Cecil serves during a match
© Duke Photography
Mallory Cecil joined the Duke University Blue Devils in January 2009 and took over the No. 1 singles position on the team after just two matches. The 18-year-old from Spartanburg, S.C., has had an outstanding rookie season, posting a 24-3 record in singles, as well as a 20-7 mark in doubles with her partner, senior Jessi Robinson. She has a 4-1 singles record against players ranked in the top five in the country, beating the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 players during the year.
Cecil is currently the highest-ranked freshman in the country at No. 6 in singles. Among her many accolades this year, she was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Rookie Player of the Year for the southeast region, as well as the ACC Rookie of the Year. She was also voted the ACC Tournament's Most Valuable Player.
This past weekend, Cecil helped lead Duke to its first appearance in the NCAA Team Championship semifinals since 1999, clinching the win for the Blue Devils in their round-of-16 match against Arkansas and then defeating the country's No. 3 player, Julia Cohen of Miami, in the quarterfinals. She is also slated to compete in the NCAA individual tournament later this month and will be seeded fifth in the event.
Cecil, who is currently riding a 14-match winning streak, recently took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for USTA.com.
USTA.com: As one of the top-ranked juniors in the nation, you were recruited by a number of top programs. Why did you select Duke?
Mallory Cecil: I was looking for a school that was tops in the country for both academics and athletics. Duke was top 10 in both areas. I wanted a school with a good balance of the two. I wanted to go where I was going to have to work just as hard off the court as I was going to work on the court. Also, Duke's campus has a great feel and is absolutely gorgeous. However, the most important draw for me was the team. I cannot say enough great things about my team and the chemistry that we have. They made me feel right at home the moment I got here. It’s been great!
USTA.com: Did you ever think about going pro right from juniors, or did you always know you wanted to go to college? Was that a hard decision for you to make?
Mallory Cecil: Going pro vs. going to college was definitely a topic that was heavily discussed all throughout my college recruiting process. The two U.S. girls ahead of me in the ITF rankings turned pro, and two U.S. girls behind me turned pro. However, I have always enjoyed school, and I did know in my heart that I wanted the college experience. Since 7th grade, I had not had the opportunity to play on a team, so I was drawn to that experience, as well. Once I had decided that I wanted a college experience, the hardest part was trying to decide where and when to go. That was a daily topic of conversation with my parents and coaches.
USTA.com: You joined the team this past January and are the only freshman on the roster. What were some of the biggest challenges for you starting in the middle of the school year?
Mallory Cecil: Going to college was a complete lifestyle change for me. I was used to being away from my family for lengths of time because of traveling for tournaments, but adjusting to the workload from high school to college had a big impact on me!! I wasn’t used to studying for hours and hours on a nightly basis. So that took a little adjusting, but once I got the hang of it, I really began to enjoy going to class and interacting with my classmates and working with my professors. I had an enormous amount of support and encouragement from everyone, which really helped me push through the adversities. I had to get acclimated fast because only a few weeks after I started, our season was absolutely hectic. I had to figure things out quickly.
USTA.com: How did your teammates help you in this transition?
Mallory Cecil: My team was absolutely amazing! They have become my family, and I love every single one of those girls. I could not have asked for a better group of girls. You name it, they helped me with it. Any time I had a question, one of them had an answer. I had two classes with my two seniors, which was helpful for me. I got to see how they handled the classes and the different ways that they would prepare for tests. My team was so supportive and encouraging. They knew exactly what I was going through and were just so positive the whole time. They were always saying how proud of me they were, and it just really would put me at ease.
USTA.com: You played quite a few pro events as an amateur the last couple years. How did that prepare you for college tennis? What are the biggest differences between pro tennis and college tennis?
Mallory Cecil: Playing pro events prepared me for college tennis in many ways. Two of those would be that it got me used to playing a faster-paced ball, and it got me familiar with playing more international players. As far as the biggest differences, the whole team atmosphere was a huge change. You are not just playing for yourself any more. You are playing for every girl that is on your team. You are one. You win together; you lose together. Another big change is the coaching on changeovers. Though I know limited coaching is being allowed in pro tournaments now, I never experienced that before college. I think it’s a really great tool to help develop and improve a player’s thought process throughout the match.
USTA.com: Heading into NCAAs, what are your goals for yourself and for your team?
Mallory Cecil: We have had a few team meetings since ACCs to talk about our goals for NCAAs, and we all feel that we are capable of beating any team out there, as long as we fight hard and take responsibility for each of our matches. We have to play like each match could be our last and just give it all we've got. We have played top teams throughout our season and have been in many different situations. At this point, we feel ready for anything and are just really excited to get out there and compete. We believe we have a shot at winning, but we are taking it one match at a time and know that it will not be an easy road. As for my own personal goals, I want to win as many matches as I possibly can for my team. I am willing to fight and stay out on that court for as long as I have to. I am really happy with how I have been playing this season, and I would just like to continue that play throughout these next few weeks.
USTA.com: What’s been your favorite class so far? Have you decided on a major or academic area of interest?
Mallory Cecil: My favorite class so far has been my Intro to Psychology class. The professor was engaging and extremely helpful when I missed class. I got to participate in some research studies, which I enjoyed, and read some interesting books. I have not decided on a major yet; however, I am going to continue to take some more psychology classes next semester and see if I would like to pursue psychology as a major. I do know that I am going to get a Markets and Management Certificate. This is basically where I take the same amount of classes for a business major, but business is not an offered major here at Duke.
USTA.com: Obviously, this semester has been a whirlwind for you. What do you like to do in your (limited) free time?
Mallory Cecil: What free time? Haha! I really like to go out to dinner with friends and just talk and hang out. That is relaxing for me and time that I cherish because of how much I am gone. I would also take advantage of my free time to catch up on much-needed sleep. Coming back to my dorm and crawling into bed at two in the afternoon was the best feeling ever. Sleep and friends -- that is all I need.
USTA.com: According to goduke.com, both your parents were collegiate golfers. How did you end up playing tennis? How is your golf game?
Mallory Cecil: I got into tennis when I was seven years old because of my P.E. class at school. Our instructor happened to be the tennis coach, and he asked me if I would like to start doing a couple clinics a week after school. I started there, and soon I wanted to be out there every day. When I was 13, I had to choose between tennis and basketball, and because I am only 5-foot, 5-inches, I figured that tennis would be a much safer bet for me. Plus, I also liked the fact that tennis was an individual sport and that winning or losing was all on you. And, yes, my parents are both excellent golfers. My mom doesn’t have time to play much right now, but my dad will get out on the course any chance that he gets. How is my golf game? Well, I can hit the ball very far, but I do not have the greatest aim. However, I am a pretty good putter. I think that is because we used to have a putting green in our backyard at home, and I would go out there a couple times a week and play putting games with my dad or friends.
USTA.com: What advice do you have for junior tennis players who want to play in college?
Mallory Cecil: I guess my best advice would be to start visiting the college campuses as soon as possible. I heard that but did not do it. When you travel to a lot of tournaments, the last thing you want to do on your "off" time is more travel!!!! But it would be time well spent. Also, I think it’s a good idea to attend tennis matches on those campuses to watch the coaches interact with the players and how the team competes as a whole. When you find the right fit for you, know you have a lot of great times to look forward to when you play college tennis. There is nothing else like it!!!