WOMEN'S TENNIS: Kelleher Provides Verteran Leadership For Resurgent Tennis Squad
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013
Updated: Sunday, March 17, 2013 22:03
For most of the spring during her junior season, Alex Kelleher, a senior on this year’s women’s tennis team, played through pain.
She entered the season ranked as the No. 11 singles player in the northeast, and No. 1 ranked doubles pair along with her partner Olga Khmylev. With both of these rankings being the highest preseason marks in program history, taking to the sidelines because of the pain she was experiencing in her foot was to be a last resort.
But by the end of March, the pain was simply too much to be ignored. With it being unclear whether or not the pain was the result of simply tendinosis, or if it was a more significant stress fracture, Kelleher began to have her foot treated with a combination of physical therapy and sports medicine. When it was discovered that the injury being dealt with was in fact a stress fracture, Kelleher’s treatment immediately took a much more serious turn.
To begin her recovery, she would have to spend two and a half months in a walking boot. That meant her season would effectively be brought to an abrupt, and early, conclusion.
“It was devastating when I found out I was done for the season,” Kelleher said.
And why wouldn’t she be devastated? All the hours that Kelleher had devoted to the game of tennis throughout her life had landed her as one of the northeast region’s premier players. Less than a year before the injury, at the end of the team’s previous spring season, Kelleher and the Eagles were one spot away from making it into the NCAA tournament and were now poised to complete that goal a year later.
Yet, throughout her career, spanning back to her Worcester Academy days where she was an All-American who went undefeated in singles competition during her four years and served as co-captain during her junior and senior seasons, Kelleher has been a leader. Although she couldn’t be on the court with her teammates in competition for the remainder of the spring, she still had duties to fulfill for the rest of her teammates and for herself.
“I guess I was pretty emotional,” Kelleher said about her reaction following her season’s early end, “but I knew that I had to be there for my team and support them.”
In Kelleher’s absence, the Eagles would once again fall short of making the NCAAs, and finished the season with an overall record of 10-13, placing them at 75th in the nation.
While in the boot, Kelleher did everything she could to provide both support to her team and keep her own skills as sharp as she possibly could, with her sights set on returning to full form by the start of her senior year. Given that she could not allow any impact on her injured foot over the two and a half month span, Kelleher was forced to be creative in how she would continue to practice.
“I would actually come down [to the Plex] and hit off of a chair, just sitting down so I could keep my timing without having impact on my foot,” Kelleher said. “[I] just had to adapt and make the best out of a bad situation.” Kelleher also emphasized the significance and benefit of her coaches making it possible for her to still get on the court at this phase of the injury even though she was limited in what she could do.
When her two months in the boot had finally expired, Kelleher was then able to move on to more conventional forms of rehab. Biking, swimming, and lifting were all central to her routine of getting back into tennis shape. By the time her final fall season as an Eagle rolled around, Kelleher was physically ready to get back on the court and pursue her goal helping lead the team to NCAAs.
Still, despite how physically well-prepared the extent of her rehab had made her, there was also a mental adjustment that had to be made before returning to top form.
“My foot definitely didn’t bother me during the fall season, but being left out of competition for so many months kind of left me a little bit rusty,” Kelleher said. “I just didn’t have the fall season that I would have liked to have, but I think its all coming together and it feels really good right now.”
Things certainly are coming together now for Kelleher and the rest of the team, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. The Eagles are 7-2 overall on the season, including 1-1 in ACC competition. With her own record of 7-2 in singles, as well as a record of 8-1 with her partner Jessica Wacnik in doubles competition, Kelleher has been off to one of her best starts in her four years as an Eagle.
It’s not just on the court that the Eagles are finding success this season either. Kelleher makes it a point that, relative to the previous seasons, chemistry this time around has been stronger. While the team has traditionally been a very close one, she explains that this season it seems like all the girls are getting along even better than in the past.
“We’ve been trying to do a lot of team bonding, stuff off of the court so that when we’re on the court everything is just more comfortable and everyone is having a good time together,” Kelleher said.
When it comes to building and maintaining chemistry this season, Kelleher points to certain activities, such as getting dinner as a team after lift twice a week, as being crucial. Generally, though, the team simply tries to spend as much time together as possible and not take anything off the court any more seriously than it needs to.
“We try to make light of the little things,” she said. “We turn a lot of things into a joke, everything’s funny. Because of the way we train, everything is so hard and time intensive that you kind of have to make the little things more enjoyable.”
As enjoyable as the little things are to Kelleher and the rest of the Eagles, it’s certain that they wouldn’t mind enjoying some of the bigger moments either, such as a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.