March 29, 2012
While many students do everything in their power to avoid the dreaded 8 a.m. class, it hasn't been a concern for junior Boston College women's tennis player Alex Kelleher. After all, she's on the court almost every day by 7 a.m. to practice.
"I'm more of a morning person anyway so I like being up," Kelleher said, with a laugh. "And, for me, I just love being on the court. I think it's nice to have that extra opportunity and hit and figure things out for myself."
All of the things that Kelleher has figured out by spending extra time on the court when many of her peers are still asleep have paid off. She began the spring season ranked as the No. 11 singles player in the Northeast and played in the No. 1 singles position throughout her freshman and sophomore year before moving to the third spot this season.
Kelleher has also teamed with classmate Olga Khmylev to form one of the most successful doubles pairs in Boston College history. The duo has achieved a lot of BC firsts this season. In November, they became the first team to go to the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. They were the first to be ranked No.1 in the Northeast region and their No. 11 national ranking was the highest in school history.
It was an all-BC final in the ITA Northeast Regional Championship, and Kelleher and Khmylev defeated teammates freshman Jessica Wacnik and senior Erina Kikuchi, 8-6, to get the automatic bid to the national tournament. There, the pair went go on to upset a 19th-ranked duo from Ole Miss and the seventh-seed from Wake Forest before losing to the third-ranked pair from Northwestern in the quarterfinals.
"Nationals were nice because you play people you don't normally get to play," Kelleher said. "We got to see how we'd do against those teams, and we did pretty well, so it was motivating. It definitely let us know we could keep up with the top teams in the ACC."
Khmylev and Kelleher have been playing together since freshman year, and Kelleher said that this consistency has helped them play so well together. Friends off the court, they have been able to learn to communicate well and know each other's strengths and weaknesses.
"I know that she's all over the net," Kelleher said of Khmylev. "She can cover pretty much any ball that comes her way at the net so that's a confidence booster for me at the baseline. I know that if I can set her up and get the point underway she'll most likely finish it with some unbelievable volley."
With the quick turnaround between matches, Kelleher uses the morning sessions to work on aspects of her doubles and singles play with her coaches. While she has been hampered by a foot injury most of the spring season, she is developing into an all-court singles player capable of frustrating opponents by being unpredictable and creative with her shot selection.
"Being able to mix it up, especially against a lot of the teams that are ranked top in the country, is really important," she said of playing in the tough ACC conference. "You can't let them get used to one style of play; you have to make them guess and never know what you're going to come up with."
Putting in the extra time on the court, as well as off it, is tied to wanting to make the most of her time at BC. After all, the Worcester Academy graduate always dreamed about going to Boston College and playing tennis in college.
"I just want to get the most out of this that I can," Kelleher explained. "I feel that if I'm not giving the most effort I'm able to, I'm not really doing everything I can to be the best that I can be."
And, of course, she wants to be able to perfect her game.
"She is, in many ways, a perfectionist on the court," head coach Nigel Bentley said. "She can never get enough of hitting and working things out. Nobody works harder than Alex."
Whether she's playing first singles or third singles, Kelleher wants to help what she called one of the deepest teams she's been on while at BC win matches. The team is currently ranked No. 62 in the country, and Kelleher said they have all been working hard to navigate the ACC.
"Playing [first singles] is an honor more than anything," she noted. "But, with all the girls on the team, anyone can play any position really. I think it's all about just being a team and not letting the position really affect you but just competing as a unit. In the end, it doesn't matter if number one wins or number six wins, it's just getting that win for the team."
Because of how hard she works and how much natural talent she has, Kelleher is sure to be able to do what she came here to do: win matches and help the team keep getting better.
"For Alex as a singles and doubles player, the best is yet to come," Bentley said. "We all feel she's on the verge of having a major breakout."
Written by Jen Dobias