SEWANEE, Tenn. - Three players from Chattanooga prep schools have played very big parts in the Sewanee tennis teams' march to national tournaments this spring.
Junior Bronte Goodhue from Girls Preparatory School was the Southern Athletic Association women's player of the year for the second time, and -- along with 2013 doubles All-American Lindsey Liles -- she also is going to the NCAA Division III individual nationals as well as the team nationals for the second year in a row.
Sophomore Eric Roddy and junior Alex Cooper from Baylor School play Nos. 4 and 5 singles and have become the No. 1 doubles team for the Sewanee men, who are in the NCAA postseason for the first time in eight years. They play today against Elmhurst in a regional at nationally second-ranked Washington University in St. Louis.
"We've been working with different combinations, and now we think we've got everybody in the best place," said John Shackelford, who's completing his 29th season as the Tigers' coach. "It's all about chemistry. That's what we've been striving for.
"We have doubles teams that all have played No. 1. In fact, the team [Rand Jackson and Sean Laughlin] that was No. 1 all of last year is our No. 3 team. And they're better than they were. That shows how much stronger we are."
With their traditional meaty nonconference schedule and the continual lineup adjustments, the Sewanee men are 14-6 for the season, but they have won 10 of their last 11 team matches, losing 5-4 to Washington & Lee in that stretch. Seven of those 10 wins were by shutout.
Cooper and Roddy have been together for the last five. They played together only once or twice while at Baylor but were drilled to play the same doubles system, so they have a natural connection. It even has been given a name: "Er-Dingo."
"Dingo" is the nickname for Cooper, who was a three-year Baylor boarding student from Bermuda. He's already recruited his brother, Chris, to come from Baylor to Sewanee next year.
"Once you get up here, there's no way to explain it," Cooper said.
Roddy, too, has been pushing for reinforcements.
"I'm trying to get everyone I know to come here," he said Wednesday.
"It was between here, Birmingham-Southern and Tennessee for me, and then it was between here and tennis or UT and no tennis," he said. "When I visited here I had a blast, and I probably visited four or five times at least."
He liked the idea that Shackelford encourages his players to experience student life fully, including service and social aspects, and he feels he has blossomed in that environment. He is an English and Spanish major with a business minor and a 4.0 grade point average.
Cooper, an economics major with a business minor, admitted that he "wasn't even considering Sewanee at all [early in his senior year at Baylor], but Coach Shackelford kept calling." He visited on a weekend in late February and began thinking about the mountain campus, but he didn't decide on Sewanee over Furman and W&L until late May of 2011.
"I came in with five freshmen, and we've been building ever since," Cooper said. "When we got here the girls' team was already established, but we had three freshmen in our top six and then had three more freshmen [including Roddy] in the top six the next year. We've got two juniors in the lineup now, and no seniors, so we should be even better next year."
Freshman Avery Schober from Dallas plays No. 1 and was the men's SAA player of the year and newcomer of the year, and he's one of 32 singles players invited to the NCAA nationals May 22-24 at Claremont, Calif. That follows the national team wrap-up May 19-21.
The women's team coached for the 28th year by Conchie Shackelford, John's wife, is 20-3 and ranked 20th. Her Tigers again are playing in a regional hosted by Emory, which happens to be 23-2 and ranked No. 1. Sewanee plays at 9 this morning against Hanover (15-6) with No. 19 W&L (17-2) awaiting the winner.
The Sewanee women graduated three of their top six from last year but still are very strong, especially at the top, where Goodhue is 19-2 and ranked third individually in the region -- one of four nationwide -- and Liles is seventh and 19-0 playing No. 2. Together they are 19-2 in doubles, including a win against Emory.
Goodhue is an economics and math major with a Spanish minor and has a 4.0-plus GPA. Liles, the sister of last year's Sewanee valedictorian and All-American doubles partner, also is an outstanding double-major student.
"They're a 1 and 2 competing athletically and academically," Conchie Shackelford said.
Goodhue used to alternate years playing USTA junior doubles with the Shackelfords' daughters, Avery and Sadie, so she's known the Sewanee coaches since she was 12 years old. Still, she figured she'd go to college somewhere farther from her Chattanooga home -- like "the Northeast," she said -- but when she cut her original group of 14 possibilities to three, Sewanee was still on the list with Vanderbilt and Pomona in California.
"But when I came here, I just got a different feeling," Goodhue said. "Every student loves to be here. And I loved the tennis facilities and team, and I loved the Shackelfords, so I just decided I'd pretend I was farther away and not go home till fall break."
She has continued to improve, she believes, even in repeating as the SAA's top player, specifically with her drop shot and serve. And with Liles and her other teammates continuing to develop and a group of top recruits already lined up, she's excited about her senior year as well.
"With our facilities, our new golf course and the new Sewanee Inn, we have a lot of good stuff going on at Sewanee," Conchie Shackelford said.
She and John, by the way, also have plans to fly from their tennis venues of the weekend to watch their eldest daughter graduate Sunday from the University of Richmond.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.