Taylor Linton | March 13, 2019
In the buildup to the 2019 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships, set to be held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., for the first time May 16-25, USTA.com will feature some of the nation's top teams in this "NCAA Contenders" series. Next up are the 2018 women's semifinalists, the Duke Blue Devils.
Duke University is known for prestigious academics and for being home to a multitude of successful athletic programs. The Blue Devils’ women’s tennis team is no exception, with one of the most respected programs in the nation.
Head coach Jamie Ashworth, who has been with the team since 1997, has helped them achieve 22 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, eventually winning the first national title in program history in 2009.
The Blue Devils finished with a 27-4 record last season, making it to the semifinals of the NCAA Championships. ADVERTISEMENT This year they have been a staple in the Top 5 of the Tennis Channel/USTA College Tennis Top 25 poll. Coach Ashworth has nothing but faith in the team to continue a successful season.
“I don’t think they know what they’re capable of. They’ve been told they’re a good team and our rankings show that we’re a good team, but our best tennis is still in front of us,” Ashworth said. “I think we’ve had a couple challenges along the way, we’ve lost to University of North Carolina twice. We’ve learned a lot from both of those matches though, and we’re ready to get to the outdoor part of our season, which will hopefully bring us to the championship.”
This season, Duke brought in freshman Maria Mateas (pictured above), who already has a stellar tennis resume at age 19. Just prior to her first semester at Duke, she won the 2018 Fort Worth Tennis Classic, $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event, for her first professional title. The WTA’s No. 305-ranked woman was also chosen to represent Team USA in the Master’U BNP Paribas International Collegiate Team Competition in Grenoble, France, in November. The North Carolina native, who helped the U.S. capture first place, was the second Blue Devil ever to be selected to represent the United States in the competition.
With such a busy fall semester and schedule, Mateas originally faced challenges getting to know the team.
“The fall was a little tough because a lot of us were all over the place,” she said. “Some of us were injured and not really playing, I was playing in some pro tournaments, so we weren’t really connected yet. Building relationships was a challenge at the beginning, but now that we have, being together during the season is great. We’re like a family.”
Sophomore Kelly Chen shared similar views on the familial feel of the team. Chen, who was named Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year last season after finishing 14-0 in ACC competition, boasts about the team dynamic between players.
“We do everything together,” Chen said. “We have this motto, ‘All Us,’ so we do everything for each other and we support each other no matter what we do.”
Chen has held an impressive collegiate record, earning three conference wins over nationally ranked opponents last season, as well as being named ITA Carolina Region Freshman of the Year. However, when asked what her most valuable collegiate moment was, Chen turned toward her team.
“I think the different values of being on a team are so valuable,” Chen answered. “It’s about being accountable for each other, as well as yourself, and doing the best we can in any situation.”
Coach Ashworth agrees: “To see how they have come together as a group has been special,” he said. “They keep getting closer and closer and they understand how valuable it is to be there for each other. For me, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
There is no doubt that the Blue Devils will continue to work hard together for the opportunity to show off their teamwork and skills at the NCAA Championships at the National Campus in May.
For more on the NCAA Championships, including ticket information, visit the USTA National Campus website.
(Photo courtesy of the Duke University)