2023 NCAA Championships: Best of Division I media day at the USTA National Campus
Division I has joined the party at the historic 2023 NCAA Championships at the USTA National Campus, with all three divisions sharing the same site for their season finales for the first time. But before the D1 quarterfinals begin in Orlando, Fla., the men's and women's teams who earned their way to Lake Nona sat down in front of the cameras for the pageantry of media day on Tuesday.
Ahead of Wednesday evening's women's quarterfinal action—with the men's quarters to follow on Thursday night—USTA.com brings you some of the best quotes from the podium.
Three schools are represented by both their women's and men's teams at the National Campus: Texas, Georgia and Michigan. Michigan junior Jaedan Brown discussed the relationship between both Wolverine programs:
"We're super close. Some of the guys are like my best friends and we live in the same apartment complex. So seeing them have success has also motivated us and we feed off of each other's energy. We both want to go all the way and that's what we're here to do."
The Kentucky men have won four of their past five matches by 4-3 scorelines, including two victories on way to the SEC tournament title and another two at NCAAs. Head coach Cedric Kauffman reflected on his team's ability to play their best tennis in "the last half hour" of matches:
"We love each other and we don't want to lose. We don't want to go home. We want to keep it going as a family. But at home, we work really hard. We work on fitness, we put the hours in. So we feel that the longer the match goes, we feel that we can keep pushing hard and actually feel better.
"We actually don't play so well the first hour, and then we start playing the tennis that we can play the second and third hour. So we trust ourselves. If we can start maybe a little bit better, the doubles or the first hour of singles, I think we will be very tough to beat.
Texas junior Taisiya Pachkaleva transferred from Pepperdine to two-time defending champs Texas in the offseason. Asked about the excitement of the Longhorns having both the women's and men's programs in Orlando, she recalled her time at the 2021 NCAA Championships when the vocal support Texas men helped the school's women's team get over the line the title match against Pepperdine:
"I want to talk about my experience two years ago when the Texas men's team came to support the Texas women's team, and they were actually a big part of [them beating us]. So now I'm actually very excited because for sure they're going to cheer for us if they have a chance."
Always unique in his assessments, Texas women's head coach Howard Joffe compared the journey of his team's season to the experience of playing the slot machines in Las Vegas:
"The fortunes of the team, it's analogous to pulling the one-arm bandits in Vegas. And for a lot of the season we're furiously pulling on the lever but not getting paid out at all, which for even old people and for young people is difficult—to put in a lot of work as a coach, I'm demanding, our program is demanding. And so there's a lot of work going on with very little rewards.
"And I think just late in the season—we did turn over four of the eight players this year from last year's roster, so we had a lot of new faces needing to get used to how things are at Texas and what have you. But I think the hard work and that resulted in, as you would say, maybe hitting a cherry and then a few bars. And then in the conference tournament maybe hitting three sevens, if you'll follow the analogy.
"And I think as the players have been rewarded with more success, I think there's a felt sense for each of them and for the group that the work has certainly been put in and they're capable of really doing anything in this tournament. So we're in a good spot at the moment for sure."
North Carolina State's Diana Shnaider made a stunning debut in the WTA's Top 100 this season alongside her efforts for the Wolfpack. With plans to play Roland Garros after NCAAs, she discussed how competing on both the college and professional levels has helped her game:
"For sure one is helping the other. It’s just getting a lot of matches, so you just continue to improve something like last match, I don't know, forehand… You’re just trying to work on those little things that could help you in the NCAA tournament or in the professionals. It's helping how I'm playing professional, when I'm coming back to college. It's a little bit different, but it's helping me to see those little things that could help me in a really important match."
Georgia graduate student Meg Kowalksi is eager to finish her college career on a high note. But she's thinking even more about sending coach Jeff Wallace out with a few more wins, with the longtime Bulldog leader set to retire after this season.
"It still hasn't really kicked in that this is the last one. I feel like I'm coming back for a sixth year in August. I'm not sure the NCAA will let me do that (laughs). But yeah, I'm enjoying every second. And it also takes a lot of pressure off me to finish well because obviously we have a 'GDG,' we call it a 'Darn Good Dog' next to me [in coach Wallace] and wanting to have our team finish on a high note for him is is exciting and it's definitely a huge motivating factor for us. I'm just so grateful that this team has fought so hard and that we're back at Orlando ready to make a lot more memories like we did in 2019."
The Iowa State women made history this season by advancing to the program's first NCAA quarterfinal. Head coach Boomer Saia reflected on the program's rise under his leadership.
"The last five years, I think we started at No. 215 in the country, and we got a lot of great character players to come in and buy in and kind of achieve the impossible—maybe what a lot of people maybe thought was impossible at Iowa State. So I think all of us have enjoyed this ride. It's been an incredible four or five months and cannot wait to get back out there with this team on Wednesday."
After arriving on campus at the University of Georgia last January, Ethan Quinn began competing as a redshirt freshman this year. The Fresno, Calif., native discussed what he's learned from his first season playing as a Bulldog.
"Just how to bounce back is probably the most important part. This season I had a lot of expectations heading into the spring after having a very good fall, and I kind of realized that those expectations, you can't really have them. You have to continue working hard.
"Everyone out there is very, very talented at every single position, not only at the No. 1 position. I just need to continue working hard, keeping my head down. And once I was able to do that, continue working hard, finding that same work ethic that I had in the in the fall, then I was able to kind of find my groove, be comfortable on court, be comfortable at the No. 1 position and start playing the way I wanted to."
In-state rivals Texas and TCU split four matches this season and now enter Orlando as the top two seeds in the men's bracket. TCU head coach David Roditi discussed the history between the programs and the possibility of a fifth meeting in the national title match.
"It's fun. I think it's been great for both teams. There's a lot of respect between the two programs, between [Texas head coach] Bruce [Berque] and I and the coaching staffs. We all see each other a lot and we've known each other for a long time. They've done a great job, so there's a lot of respect. And at the same time we're just helping each other get better and giving each other opportunities.
"Every time we play Texas, we learn something new, a little bit more about ourselves that hopefully will prepare us best for Thursday. I think Bruce would agree that to play for a fifth time would be ridiculous. We would love that chance at this point. It’s a long ways from now. Michigan is going to be a hell of a match and more for me.
Finally, defending men's champion Virginia's head coach Andres Pedroso discussed the historic nature of the 2023 NCAA Championships:
"This is a tennis nerd's paradise right here. It's the Mecca of American tennis as a whole. And now that we're hosting all the divisions here for the NCAA Championships, it's just an incredible event and so great for college tennis.
"We're actually going to go watch [Case Western’s James Hopper], a guy that's going to be on our team next year, play for a national championship in Division III. So that's going to be very special. It's just a great venue to be here at the campus."
For more information, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's NCAA Championships homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit USTA.com's news landing page for the event.