Tennis isnt usually thought of as a team sport, but one departing star proved how critical the support of coaches and teammates can be to the development of individual potential.
After a wild up-and-down career, fourth-year Annie Miller will graduate next week, leaving behind a 5018 singles record across all six singles positions and a 4326 mark in a multitude of doubles tandems. Shell leave behind a program that experienced a major facelift for the better since her arrival in Hyde Park.
Before the squads revamping, the Wynnewood, PA native had little hope for the future of her collegiate tennis career or of the Maroons program. She struggled to fit into a young and disorganized womens tennis squad. Having played solidly in high school, she couldnt quite find her groove in the college tennis world.
My style of play changed dramatically from my high school years to my college year, Miller said. The quality of the opponents is much better in college, and you have to be much more consistent.
With no settled coaching staff her first year, Miller experienced the challenges of going head-to-head with this talent pool all too soon. The teams personnel limitations thrust the greenhorn into the top spot on the team, a position she didnt feel emotionally or physically ready for.
Its pretty funny, because when I first came, I was just hoping to make the team, Miller said. The team was in shambles. Our coach then, Natalie Butler, had just quit. I found myself playing number one singles my freshman year, which was not what I had a) expected or b) wanted.
After enduring a season in which Chicago played only five matches, made no road trips, and practiced sporadically, Miller finished with a meager 23 record in singles. The Maroons needed to be restructured, and a brand new coaching staff seemed to have the wherewithal to do it. Marty Perry took the helm in the fall of 2003 and began the work of rebuilding what had become a lifeless program.
When Marty came in, he was so organized, we had set practice times throughout the winter, Miller said. His administrative capacity was phenomenal, and he went from taking a nothing team then to having recruited five amazing freshmen. Hes really done a lot for the program.
While the head coach and the star eventually learned to work together, things seemed a little shaky at first, as it took a little while for Perry to adjust to coaching a womens team. His originally low expectations for the squad didnt match the determination and drive that many players exhibited at the time.
I think he learned a lot in his first year, Miller said. He had anticipated a lot more problems than what he found, he had expected problems. Over the three years, we learned how to work with one another.
With the new staffs structural changes in place, Miller was finally able to focus on improving her game. Energized by both her coaches and the squads changes, she went on a tear in the 20032004 season. Miller notched a 136 overall record in singles, with 10 of those wins in the second spot. After going 21 at the UAA Championships in Rochester, she earned an honorable mention spot on the All-UAA team. In doubles competition, she spent most of her time in a tandem with current third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien, going 86.
I kind of found my game my second-year, Miller said. The first couple matches when I realized how to win, I would write down on a piece of paper, just move your feet, watch the ball, or bend your knees, just basic things, or mental tricks to concentrate on, without thinking about the points at the time. I learned how to work with what I have.
Things only continued to improve for Miller in her third year, as she went 133, finally playing third singles, her high school spot. While she seemed well-adjusted to singles competition, she struggled with being constantly paired up with different players. She promptly expressed her views to Perry, and after trying out a few new tandems in practice, she felt an instant connection with then second-year Cassie Kramer. The two formed a remarkable tandem in second doubles that went on to post an 115 season mark. It was a true feeling of teamwork that Miller needed to play her best.
We just clicked, Miller said. I knew thats who I wanted to play doubles with. She has a real drive to win, and when it comes down to it, I always knew she was going to be there to pull it out. Its just a pleasure to play with her.
Having finally settled into doubles play, Miller dominated this past season, compiling a 2010 overall record with Kramer, classmate Katie Dulmage, second-year Michelle Parad, and first-year Preetha Rajamani. She put up her best singles numbers yet, going 226.
It was so fabulous chatting with Katie [Dulmage] and looking back, seeing how far weve come, Miller said. Especially my second year, everyone was so responsive and really would help me know that I was coming along and working through things. Sometimes you know when theres something really special, when youre doing something special, and those couple minutes before you start a match, and youre all sitting around in a circle with your hands in the middle, and you feel the energy.
Miller will take a degree in international studies to the job market after graduation and plans to remain in Chicago.