DURHAM, N.C. - For most college tennis players, a freshmen season that ends with a 25-13 singles record and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team would constitute a successful year. But junior Kaitlyn McCarthy did not want to rest on her laurels and could see that there was plenty of room for improvement in her sophomore season.
“Coming into my sophomore year, my goal was to get better every day and use every practice to make sure I improved,” said McCarthy. “I worked on specific parts of my game during each practice to maximize my time.”
The Cary, N.C. native went just 5-4 in singles matches during the 2016 fall season. But although the results might not have shown it, Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth could see that McCarthy was improving.
“Her commitment level to being a complete player was much improved in year two from year one,” said Ashworth. “She realized that in order to be successful, she needed to put in the time. She was as dedicated as anyone on the team to putting in the extra time and effort to get better. Routinely, Kaitlyn was the first here in the morning, from just hitting serves on her own to working with coaches. She realized what it takes to have a great year.”
McCarthy’s hard work paid off as she earned 29 singles victories and 22 doubles wins during the year. McCarthy was not the only Blue Devil to improve as the team went 22-6 during the year after finishing with a 19-7 record in 2016. Duke was beaten just once in ACC play to finish with a 13-1 conference record and earn a share of the regular season conference title for the first time since 2012.
McCarthy especially honed in on bettering her conditioning, working with strength and conditioning coach Alex Merrill to improve her fitness.
“Working with the new conditioning coach (Merrill) was a big part of my success,” McCarthy said. “I came into freshman year strong and fit, but it did not translate to tennis as well as I wanted it. Last year I worked on refining my conditioning more for tennis and it showed, especially toward the end of the year when we were playing a larger amount of matches in a short amount of time.”
As the long season wore on some players, McCarthy only seemed to get stronger. She finished the year on a 21 match winning streak in singles play, dropping only five sets over that span and winning all four of her postseason matches. A perfect 14-0 in ACC play put McCarthy in a tie for seventh place all-time at Duke in consecutive conference victories. Her efforts contributed to Duke returning to the NCAA Round of 16 after missing out the previous two seasons.
McCarthy also formed a successful doubles partnership with Meible Chi. The pair finished the year with a 14-8 overall record and went 4-4 against nationally ranked opponents.
McCarthy did not just improve on the physical side of the game. Her mentality also saw major changes in her second year at Duke.
“From a pure personality standpoint, from the beginning of her freshmen year to the end of sophomore year, she became more vocal and confident in herself, and began to put herself in leadership positions,” said Ashworth. “Her level of improvement there was just as good as it was on the court.”
McCarthy attributes her improved mindset to learning how to tune out distractions.
“During my freshmen year, I was at times overwhelmed by the stresses from school and things outside of tennis,” commented McCarthy. “Last season, I was able to concentrate better on tennis and prevent myself from using any excuses for having a bad day at practice. I wanted to make sure I enjoyed my time spent at practice and with my teammates.”
The biggest difference, according to Ashworth, was that McCarthy took a professional approach to her season.
“Professionals don’t take any practices off and I adopted that attitude,” agreed McCarthy. “When I stepped on to the court to work with my coaches, I made sure to spend my time concentrating on specific areas and improving on them every day.”
Fresh off a summer trip to China through the ACE program, McCarthy is envisioning big things for her junior campaign.
“This year I want to keep up the success and continue to build,” said McCarthy. “Knowing the routine that helped me to improve last year gives me confidence as I head into this season. We have a great group of players and coaches here at Duke and I’m excited to get back and continue to work with them to get better.”
With the graduation of Chalena Scholl, McCarthy and Chi are the two returning Blue Devils with the highest 2016 singles win totals. With continued improvement from the pair, Duke will once again be near the top of the ACC standings as well as making a push for a national championship.