Q&A with Alex Kelleher & Olga Khmylev
Nov. 9, 2011
The junior pair is coming off a quarterfinals finish at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, the furthest any BC women's tennis players have gone in the national tournament, after winning the ITA Northeast Regional. The duo defeated BC teammates in the regional finals to advance to the national stage. We sat down with them to get their take on the tournaments' events, the future of BC tennis and want they like to do in their spare time.
What were your goals heading into the ITA Northeast Regional? Was making it to nationals a goal coming into the regional?
Olga Khmylev: Honestly it wasn't a goal to start. We came off kind of a shaky start in the fall. We just wanted to play well and then all of a sudden it's an all-BC final. We thought it was so awesome. It was obviously the first time BC has ever done that--to have even gotten to the finals. And then to come out on top was even better.
Alex Kelleher: I think we knew we could do well in the Regionals. We matched up well with a lot of the higher teams, but for us to win was kind of nice--just to prove that all of our hard work was paying off.
How did you feel having to face your teammates to advance to the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships?
AK: It was definitely weird at first. You kind of just have to put it aside and say, `They're your teammates, you'll treat them with respect on the court.' But ultimately we wanted to win. It comes down to just being good competitors.
OK: I though it was very interesting that the coaches coached every match prior to the finals, but then they didn't come out on the court. How are they going to coach both teams? So that was an interesting dynamic, and I just felt bad trying to hit our own teammates. So it was definitely weird, but at the same time we just wanted to win. That's what we kept saying, `Let's go to Nationals. Let's come out on top.'
Do you have bragging rights heading forward?
AK: I don't think so. I think there's a certain level of respect because it's your own team. If they had won, we would have been just as happy for them to get to Nationals. It's was a team goal that we were working towards--to get everyone to reach the highest level, but obviously it was nice that we ended up there.
OK: It was bittersweet, as well, because we won Regionals, and it was such a big goal that we had, but we beat our teammates in the finals. So at the same time we couldn't enjoy it as much it was like we won and they lost.
What was the level of competition like at Nationals?
AK: I think with the ACC schools that we face in the spring you see a lot of the same level of competition, and these were a lot of the juniors we've seen, but they were also always the top juniors. So it was interesting to be at the same tournament that they were, playing at the same level. Everyone was expected to play their best tennis, and we were in that same category. There was a little bit of pressure, but I think most of it was just fun.
OK: I think the pressure also winded down too because we beat an ACC school [Wake Forest] in our first match and that was huge for us. We beat their doubles team last year, but at the same time they were seeded seventh [this time] and we didn't know that. Then there was an ITA website article that came out, that said, `Surprise-team Boston College reaches Nationals,' and when I read that I just started laughing because people thought we were a surprise and we weren't expected to be there. I think that motivated us more. We won the second match and we felt like we belonged. I think now expectations have definitely risen, and we need to make the tournament again next year.
Do you think the team's performance from the Regional and Nationals can carry momentum over into the spring?
AK: I think it will. I think it will help us in the spring, but it will also help the rest of our team giving them the motivation that we can actually compete with these teams that are supposed to be better than us. They are really not. We're all at the same level, and we're just as good as they are. We had great success in the doubles, but a lot of the other girls on the team had success in singles play.
OK: Yes, we were the players who were at Nationals, but at the same time we were representing BC and not just ourselves. We do belong. BC was named in the national list. I think it's a great confidence booster. We plan on doing big things in the spring.
What are your goals for the spring coming off a successful fall?
OK: Personally, we didn't have a winning record last year in doubles and because we had such a good fall season, I want to continue that and definitely have our best season. Hopefully come out with a winning record, ideally be number one in the ACC. I mean, we just came in the top-eight nationally so why not? I want to go to NCAAs. As a team, obviously, that would be great because doing anything as a team in college is that much greater. For us, doubles wise, I would love to see us there, and hopefully getting revenge on Northwestern [who the pair lost to in the quarterfinals at Nationals].
Would you consider your team pretty close-knit this year? What do you like to do on the road?
AK: This is our third year here, and I think this is probably one of the closest teams that we've had. There is a lot of age difference--we don't have any sophomores. I feel like the dynamic is good all around--the seniors, the freshmen, everyone gets along. It makes practicing and traveling and all that a lot easier.
OK: We're all so different, but we're always laughing--that's the one thing that always brings us together is that we're always just joking around. We have an obsession with Whole Foods. We always go to Whole Foods on the road.
What drew you to BC?
AK: I think for both us it was definitely a combination of both academics and athletics. The academics really speak for themselves here. For athletics, I think it's the same thing--you can't really get a higher level of athletics than Boston College. It's nice to have a balance of both.
OK: Also, hockey for me. I just love the game. That was definitely my third reason for coming here - it goes academics, tennis, hockey.
What do you like to do outside of tennis?
AK: I love to cook and I love to bake. If I'm not playing tennis or studying, I'm cooking or baking. We, obviously take lots of grocery trips.
OK: We go to the grocery store a lot, Whole Foods obviously. For me, if I'm not playing tennis or studying, then I'm usually watching a hockey game whether it's on TV, streaming online, or going to games. The Sabres-Bruins game this weekend is my number one, can't wait for that. The Sabres are my team.
Interview by Nick Dow