DURHAM, N.C. – Samantha Harris, recent 2018 graduate and four-year member of the Duke women’s tennis team, closed out her time as a Blue Devil as one of the most celebrated in recent history.
In her final campaign, Harris was named the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, marking the first time in Duke women’s tennis history a Blue Devil has claimed the accolade. The Melbourne, Australia, native added Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Carolina Region Senior Player of the Year, Most Improved Senior and ITA Scholar-Athlete honors to her list of accomplishments.
As a senior, Harris spent the entire season in the first singles position, compiling a 15-6 overall ledger where she finished the year ranked sixth in singles play by the ITA. On the top court, Harris collected seven conference singles wins over nationally ranked opponents and earned a trip to the ITA Fall Championship main draw by defeating then No. 4 Sara Daavettila of North Carolina (6-1, 1-6, 6-4).
In addition to her senior year honors, Harris etched her name in the Duke record books on April 15. Harris bested Gabriela Rezende of Pittsburgh (6-1, 6-2) to give her 39 career ACC wins, the most by any Blue Devil.
Harris saw great success in doubles as well by forming a partnership with rookie Kelly Chen, as the pair won 11 matches during the spring slate and secured a spot as the top-ranked doubles pair in the country for four consecutive weeks.
Harris recently spoke with GoDuke.com to look back at her Duke career and what her tennis future holds.
GoDuke.com: How do you know coming to Duke was the right decision for you?
Harris: “When I was looking at colleges, it was all very new to me. Coming from Australia, our universities work completely different so I really didn’t know what to expect. I looked at a few different colleges but when I stepped onto the Duke campus, I knew immediately that this would be the right decision for me. The campus was obviously beautiful but it was also the perfect size; not too big and not too small. I really felt there was this sense of community between all the students, workers and faculty and that was something that was definitely very important to me and that I wanted to be a part of.
From a tennis perspective, it was a perfect fit. The tennis program has a history of being very successful which was important to me. However, the defining factor was the real sense of family and belonging that the team encompassed. Ultimately I knew that this would be a place that could take me to the next level.”
GoDuke.com: What do the relationships you formed at Duke mean to you and how did they add to your experience as a Blue Devil?
Harris: “I made so many relationships here at Duke with my teammates, classmates and professors.
The tennis team is very small, made up of eight or nine girls with whom you spend almost every day. I am lucky enough to say that my teammates were truly like my sisters who were always there through thick and thin and experienced both the memorable and difficult times. I will forever cherish the lifelong bonds I formed, and the incredible memories shared with each and every one of them.
The small class sizes also enabled me to foster unique relationships with my professors which definitely enhanced my learning experience and made it that much more fulfilling.”
GoDuke.com: What do your coaches mean to you?
Harris: “Your coaches at college impact your experience greatly as they are the two people that you see almost every day of your college experience, and not to mention travel with too. For me, I was lucky enough to have two coaches that wanted the best for us both as a tennis player and as a person. This definitely filtered down into the relationships we formed both on and off the court and the trust and respect we had for one another.”
GoDuke.com: What was your proudest achievement as a Duke women’s tennis player?
Harris: “There would be two moments in my college career that stick out to me. On an individual level, my proudest moment would be reaching the ITA Fall Nationals tournament in Palm Springs. Any time you get to play for a national championship is very special, and I was lucky enough to do that in the last Fall tournament of my college career. From a team perspective, my proudest achievement would be reaching the final four of the NCAA championships in Wake Forest. It was disappointing not to reach the final, however, it was a great way to end my college career going down fighting in a close battle to the eventual champions, Stanford. I was proud of how the team competed and fought hard throughout the entire season and gave ourselves every opportunity to win the NCAAs.”
GoDuke.com: How did you grow as a player in your time at Duke? How about as a person?
Harris: “I look back at my freshman year and I cannot believe how much I have changed as a person, player and teammate. My four years at Duke were some of the most challenging yet most rewarding years of my life. From a tennis perspective, my tennis game has been sharpened and I have matured tactically. Also being part of a team, which is unique for tennis, has definitely taught me leadership qualities that can be used in all facets of life.
On a more personal note, Duke has provided me with so many unique opportunities, encouraged me to try new things and widened my perspective on an array of issues. In doing so, it has helped me discover what I am truly passionate and enabled me to grow as a person with every new experience.”
GoDuke.com: What was the mindset when you were battling injuries and how did that make you stronger?
Harris: “Battling injuries is never easy and unfortunately, I have had my fair share of injuries prior to college and at college. You can learn a lot about yourself when you are injured and it is most definitely character building. In my opinion, injuries are all about perspective. Believe it or not, injuries have impacted my career in a positive way. They have helped me build resilience, persistence and mental toughness that other players don’t have. I have had to push through pain barriers and take extended periods out from tennis but it is experiences like these that make me cherish my time on the court that much more.”
GoDuke.com: How do you want people to remember you from your time at Duke?
Harris: “I hope that I am remembered as someone who embodied exactly what it meant to represent ‘Duke’ on the front of their jersey. For me, this meant being a part of something much larger than myself and respecting each and every opportunity I was given. In doing so, I hope to be remembered on the court as a gritty competitor who gave 100 percent in everything I did. It is a privilege to play for Duke and hopefully I was able to make a positive impact on the legacy of Duke women’s tennis, leaving it a better place than when I started.”
GoDuke.com: What are your future plans? Are you planning to pursue tennis on the professional level?
Harris: “As soon as I get healthy again, I will be playing on the professional tour. For professional tennis, there is only one worldwide tour and thus it incorporates months and months of travel each year. For now, since I am not competing, I am based back in Melbourne, Australia where I do all of my training. In the coming weeks when I am injury free, I will be playing a number of tennis tournaments starting in Australia and eventually all over the world with the goal to improve my ranking. Ultimately, my goal is to become the top 100 in the world which can take years to reach.”
GoDuke.com: How did Duke prepare you for taking your tennis game to the next level?
Harris: “Duke was a great pathway for me to be able to combine two very important things in my life: sport and academics. From an athletic point of view, Duke provided me with all the resources to develop my game for the professional circuit. Between the coaches, the athletic trainers, the physical trainers, nutritionists and psychologists, Duke was able to provide me with the necessary elements to improve my mental and physical game and prepare me for the professional circuit. Having access to these resources over my four years has most definitely impacted my game enormously and better prepared me for the professional circuit.”