2023 NCAA Championships: D3 doubles win is cherry on Shackelford's coaching career
As the 37-year head coach of women’s tennis at The University of the South—colloquially called Sewanee—Conchie Shackelford is a history-maker. The first woman to reach 600 wins in Division III tennis, and Top 10 all-time in career wins for coaches in all three divisions combined, Shackelford is a seven-time conference coach of the year, a three-time regional coach of the year, and has guided more than two dozen All-Americans between singles and doubles in her career to date.
But now, she can boast her first-ever national champions. On Monday at the USTA National Campus, Sewanee sophomore Brooke Despriet and junior Katherine Petty won the NCAA Division III women’s doubles title over Matia Cristiani and Olivia Soffer of Babson College for the first individual national tennis title in school history, 6-4, 6-2.
It was already the first time in school history that a Tiger (well, in this case, two) were playing for an individual tennis title. In 1993, Shackelford coached Becky Jo Doncaster and Cameron Tyer to the doubles semifinals, and Tyer also reached the penultimate round in singles. To get to the final, Despriet and Perrt knocked off both the No. 2 seeds and the No. 4 seeds before rolling to the win against Cristiani and Soffer, who were also unseeded.
Soffer finished Monday as a two-time runner-up, as the sophmore had previously lost to Angie Zhou of Pomona-Pitzer College earlier in the day in the singles final.
The pair are the first national champions for the small, liberal arts school, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, is nestled in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains and boasts about 1,735 undergraduates per its website, in any sport since 2000.
“It's pretty amazing. I’ve been doing this a long time and it's something you always dream of,” Shackelford said afterwards. “I can't really process it yet, but it will hit me. My whole emphasis to them was, ‘You have to understand that no matter what happens is so special, so special, and you just have to relish every moment that you've been here.’ That's kind of what I was trying to go with.”
In addition to her place in the record books, Shackelford occupies other rarified air in college tennis. Female head coaches in all three NCAA divisions can be a rarity, even on women’s teams, and Shackelford, a mother of four daughters herself, says that, over the years, she has never taken the responsibility of guiding hundreds of young women through their formative years lightly.
“I am, and I will proudly say, I'm a feminist,” she said. “I try to empower my girls. I try to make sure that they get equal opportunities [that] the boys [get when they] play, and my goal is for them to become powerful women, be able to stand up for themselves, get great jobs, have a happy life, like I do.
“My goal is just to make sure that they can get what they need and want. … I love my girls—my own girls and these girls. it’s very special. I love being a coach. I always have.”
Despriet and Petty, who entered the 2022-23 season as Division III's No. 1 women's doubles pair in the national rankings but were unseeded in these championships, both had similar affection for their coach.
“She’s our coach. She's also our mom. She's our sister. She's kind of everything to us,” Petty said. “She's very empowering. She's willing to fight for us and for our team, what we deserve and what we have worked for. It's really special having Conchie, and also having [second-year associate head coach] Doug [Maynard] behind her, because he's also very supportive of us.”
"She's just there to help us have fun," Despriet continued. "Tennis is a very hard sport and I think she understands that. She doesn't add any extra pressure." With a grin, she added: "She loves to spoil us with ice cream after matches."
Despriet and Perry's national crown made it a hat trick of tournament titles for the duo this season, as they also triumphed at the ITA regional championship at the end of September, and bagged the ITA's national crown in Rome, Ga. two weeks later in October. They went 12-0 in such competitions, and 22-6 in doubles in the year overall.
Will a historic achievement merit another sweet treat?
"Oh, yeah," they said in tandem to finish off their winner's press conference. "For sure."
For more information on the NCAA Championships, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's tournament homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit USTA.com's news landing page for the event.