Taylor Linton | April 16, 2019
Vanderbilt University’s women’s team has been a staple in the NCAA Division I semifinals the last four years, a run that started by the program’s first team championship in 2015. After a pair of semifinal losses in 2016 and 2017, the Commodores reached the final again last year, succumbing to Stanford in a close, 4-3 decision. Now, the team is viewing that loss as an opportunity for growth and a fuel for their hunger to capture their second national title.
Senior Fernanda Contreras, a native of Austin, Texas, has all the faith in the Commodores to claim the championship this year.
“We know we can do it. It’s going to take a lot of effort and a lot of hard work,” she said. “You won’t just earn a spot to the championship; you have to grow through the season … Honestly, this year, we’re playing with hunger and playing fearlessly.”ADVERTISEMENT
Contreras has seen her share of impressive collegiate moments. In 2016, her freshman year, she was named to both the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team and the SEC All-Tournament Team. The successes continued, as she reached in the semifinal round of both the 2017 NCAA Division I Individual Championships and the 2017 Oracle Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Fall Championships. She also won the Riviera/ITA National Fall Championships singles tournament, becoming the first Commodore to win the prestigious title.
Junior Christina Rosca (Princeton, N.J.) is another key member of the Vanderbilt team and shares in Contreras’ excitement. Rosca made it to the semifinals of the 2017 Debbie Southern Fall Classic and reached the quarterfinals of the 2017 Riviera/ITA singles tournament. She has earned places on both the 2018 All-SEC First Team and the 2017 SEC All-Freshman Team.
“The spring season is definitely some of the most exciting times for tennis players in general. I think playing for a team is a lot more fun than playing individually,” Rosca said. “We only get the opportunity to do it for four years, so it’s definitely a lot of excitement. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season.
“There’s obviously a little bit of pressure because we did really well last year, and the last couple years in general, but that’s something we try to manage and take one match at a time. We try not to overlook anyone, especially this year in college tennis. There are a lot of teams that are really close in level, so really anything can happen.”
Contreras also feels the pressure of being a part of such a successful program, but she credits head coach Geoff Macdonald for easing that burden.
“The way the coaches have built our culture with the Vandy team is why we do so well,” she said. “They don’t care about winning or losing or rankings or results, they care about how we do every day, the process and how we’re transitioning and getting better. That takes a lot of pressure off of us and I think that’s why we play so freely. People don’t expect us to do very well, and then we do very well because they believe in us so much. I blame our success on the coaches.”
Macdonald has been with the Commodores for 25 seasons and has seen plenty of triumphs in his time with the program. Before Macdonald’s arrival, the Commodores had never seen a ranking higher than No. 28 in the nation. With his assistance, the Commodores have been ranked no lower than No. 19 in the past 17 years.
Macdonald recognizes that the team can sometimes feel the pressure of keeping the program at the top of the women’s game.
“One of the things that’s difficult is we’ve had extraordinary success in the last few years, and sometimes I do worry they put undue pressure on themselves, that they feel like they have to live up to what happened a year or two ago,” Macdonald said.
His solution is simple: “Be this year’s best team, be the best team you can be. There are so many tremendous teams, especially in our league, and understanding how to get up for every match and not overlooking anybody is important.”
One thing is certain—the Commodores won’t be overlooking any teams at the NCAA tournament in Orland Fla., as they look to make it five straight semifinal appearances. While that past success will remain in the record books forever, for the team, it’s all about 2019 now.
For more on the NCAA Championships, including ticket information, visit the USTA National Campus website.
(Photo courtesy of the Vanderbilt University)