Grade A competitor
Published 3:05 pm, Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Carolyn McVeigh makes the grade at Stanford
She's always taken tennis seriously, and you can hear that in her voice. There's a determination that won't go away.
To-be Stanford senior Carolyn McVeigh is in a transition period. She's a Division I NCAA athlete, one who won't be going pro in her respective sport, so the next 12 months will serve as the watershed period of her young life.
Currently, she's still riding the high from the national championship she and her teammates at Stanford (25-1) won in May. The Cardinal won its 16th national title, reclaiming its place atop the collegiate mountain in female tennis. Stanford's 16 crowns are far and away the most; Florida, who Stanford defeated in the final, is in second with four national championships to its name.
As she sat in the near-100-degree heat earlier this week, she reflected on winning in similar conditions in the Peach State two months ago (the women's finals were held in Athens, Ga.). She arrived back in New Canaan less than two weeks ago; Stanford's academic calendar operates on quarters rather than semesters.
"Going into it I think my teammates knew that was our expectation," McVeigh said of getting a title after a multi-year drought.
The eighth-seeded Cardinal didn't have an easy road and wasn't expected to even reach the finals by many. Along the way, Stanford defeated Baylor -- who had felled the Cardinal the first two years of McVeigh's career -- and Notre Dame, who defeated Stanford in 2009. There were demons exorcised from a team and personal standpoint.
McVeigh, who played at No. 5 singles and No. 3 doubles in 2010, said she did a lot of internal growing this past season. The Florida match was a buildup of pressure on the team's shoulders. Shockingly, she lost a deciding doubles match, 8-6, yet had won all her doubles matches in the tournament leading up to that. (It was only McVeigh and Li's second loss of the season as a team.)
This sort of pressure wasn't new to McVeigh though, as a match in April prepared her and the team for the challenge it needed to overcome to win a national title.
If there's one place Stanford is always expected to win, it's at home. The Cardinal hasn't lost on its home cement in 164 matches (132 regular season, 32 NCAA tournament) -- a streak that dates back to 1999. It's the longest active home winning streak in Division I.
It almost ended in April, though, and McVeigh could have been the reason for it. The weight of it came quickly upon her shoulders, and she admitted, "It had been a lot of pressure on us leading to that. Technically, I could have single-handedly ended the winning streak."
Playing against rival Southern Cal, the match was tied at 3-3. McVeigh had to wait an inordinate amount of time to try and stretch the streak to 164. Rain caused a delay, and she waited two weeks to finish up the match -- which also ended up deciding the Pac-10 regular-season title. McVeigh won 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 and got her team a conference title, eventually setting them up with the No. 8 seed in the national tournament.
She finished 8-4 in dual matches and had a 24-9 overall record in singles play, while going 23-1 in the regular season with Li at No. 3 doubles.
McVeigh fashions herself as an all-around player with an emphasis on her speed around the net, and that played a big part in getting the team over the top.
Through challenges like the aforementioned matches, McVeigh has learned to handle pressure and how to expect things from herself.
"I've certainly learned a lot about myself and become more multi-faceted," she said. "I'm now more aware of myself and my ambitions."
Her ambitions have been on full display, as she was a Second Team Pac-10 All-Academic selection this year. She was Honorable Mention in 2009. Her GPA was the highest on the team (though she was bashful in disclosing it). It's no easy feat to be at the top of your team GPA list at a school like Stanford, but McVeigh said the high academic standards are ingrained in her from when she graduated from King three years ago.
"It's tough in a lot of ways," she said of the sport/study time demands. "I think of it more as a balancing act. ... Part of the reason I went to Stanford was the elite education. I'm not wasting the experience completely on tennis."
McVeigh says the words in a way that showcase her intent to not let tennis override school nor vice versa. In fact, her primary reason to go to the West Coast wasn't necessarily the school itself -- she could've attended many a reputable, elite university -- it was the weather that accompanied Stanford.
"I was tired of playing indoor tennis," she said. "I wanted to play outside (consistently) with good California players."
As it so frequently happens with college students, McVeigh soon found out Stanford provided her with other experiences. Her social circle now includes people from all points around the United States, and one of her best friends is from China.
"I loved my childhood here and growing up, but I could definitely see myself staying and enjoying on the West Coast," she said. "I could definitely see myself becoming a Californian."
One of the big reasons why is because she's adapted to the pace of life there, the weather, the diversity. When back home, she's running on a foreign clock.
"The commitments are very high. I feel like I've gotten pretty good at managing my time. It hasn't been too big of a struggle the longer I've been there."
During the spring, the team has three hours of practice every day, then it's an hour of workout, whether that be in the gym or agility training on the courts. From 2 to nearly 7 p.m., it's tennis-intensive, and that includes mandatory team dinners.
That sort of discipline led McVeigh to decide that law school is the next step, though she doesn't know which school just yet. Currently, she's interning at Yale and helping a group improve government transparency and media freedom. She's begun writing online, is doing work from home and heads to New Haven once a week to further indulge in her next big career step. You can tell she's excited about what lies ahead, in the somewhat distance future, when she says, "I'm not too sure how much I can reveal about my job."
McVeigh's story isn't one about overcoming tremendous obstacles or dealing with setbacks. It's the type of story that doesn't always get told -- the competent athlete that is ready and able to make the transition from a sports-centric life to a life with a direction. It's something many athletes on the fringe of playing professionally (in any capacity) struggle with.
So there's one year left of Carolyn McVeigh: Tennis Player. This fall, she will be one of three seniors, and is anticipating on being named a co-captain.
She'll head back to Stanford at the end of September, but before then, McVeigh bask in one more northeast tradition of hers -- going to the US Open. This year, she'll be watching her teammates participate in the doubles tournament. Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette, the No. 1 team at Stanford who've been ranked No. 1 throughout the season at the college level, will give it a go in Queens.
What's the perfect college ending? Back-to-back titles, of course, and Stanford will be hosting the NCAA tournament in 2011. She'll get a chance to win it at home. And "home" has started to have more than one meaning for McVeigh.