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Women’s Tennis: Senior doubles partners find success in leadership

Vicky Jacobsen | Thursday, March 29, 2012

On one Texas night three years ago, then-freshman Shannon Mathews was in position to boost Notre Dame into the top level of college tennis.

“We were in the quarterfinals playing Baylor in the NCAAs, and she was the last match on,” Irish coach Jay Louderback said. “The score was 3-3, and it came down to her match. We were in Texas so there was a huge Baylor crowd and they were really nasty; they were on Shannon like crazy.”

Mathews went on to win the third set, 6-4, clinching the match for the Irish and sending Notre Dame to its first Final Four in program history.

“Having all my teammates cheering and being able to clinch the match [was incredible],” Mathews said. “Just being able to share that moment with my teammates and bringing Notre Dame into a position in the NCAA tournament where we had never been before was really an amazing, amazing experience that I will never forget.”

But two Big East titles and nearly three seasons later, Louderback said memories like Mathews’ quarterfinal victory and senior Kristy Frilling’s perfect record at No. 1 doubles in dual matches her sophomore year are only a small part of the reason why he is proud of his senior co-captains.

“All they’ve really cared about is how well we’ve done as a team,” Louderback said. “They both have made sacrifices during their four years of either playing wherever they’ve played in the lineup or with [different] doubles partners, and I’ve never heard a complaint from either one of them about anything. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud about, just the way they’ve handled being great teammates.”

Mathews said she and Frilling found it easier to take control of the team after seeing so many good examples in their earlier years.

“In a way it’s been an easy transition, for the both of us, to step into those leadership roles as we came to be seniors because we just wanted to follow in the footsteps of the great leaders that we’ve had on our team in the past,” Mathews said. “Our freshman year we had really good leaders on the team with [current assistant coach] Kelcy Tefft, who was our senior captain at the time, and Katie Potts, and we just learned a lot from those two.”

Louderback also said the pair’s success – they are currently the No. 1 doubles tandem in the country – meant they had little difficulty gaining the respect of their younger teammates.

“It’s a little easier for them since they’re our best two players,” Louderback said. “They’ve both worked really hard to get to where they are now, and that gives them the ability to be able to tell kids whatever they feel.”

Frilling said she and Mathews try to keep their role as captains enjoyable.

“I would like to think that we are fun yet ‘get the job done’ kind of leaders,” Frilling said. “I think we both try to lead by example and be positive role models for all of our teammates.”

Louderback said the team will miss their captains’ attitudes along with their talent following graduation.

“Besides them being really good players, their dedication to just doing whatever we have to do to win, I think that’s probably the thing we’re going to miss the most about them,” Louderback said.

Frilling said she isn’t ready to give up competitive tennis just yet.

“I am hoping to play professional tennis after I graduate,” Frilling said. “It’s pretty hard so we’ll see where that takes me. I don’t know if I will truly ever be able to quit tennis. It’s hard to just stop doing something that has played such a prominent role for my entire life.”

Although Mathews will start a consulting job at a firm in Chicago after graduation, she said tennis will continue to play a role in her life.

“I think I’ll definitely play tennis for the rest of my life – it’s one of those lifetime sports, which I think is amazing about tennis,” Mathews said. “Definitely not having practice every day will be a little bit different. Competitive tennis won’t be at the forefront of my life for the next couple of years, but I’ll definitely continue playing on the weekends and in the summer and that sort of thing for fun, so I won’t hang them it forever.”

Frilling and Mathews will lead the team into action against DePaul (10-5, 1-0 Big East) at the Eck Tennis Pavilion at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]