Feb. 20, 2014
By Staci Gasser
Seven matches into their 2014 regular season schedule, the Notre Dame girls tennis have chalked up five wins and just two losses, and one left-handed freshman has contributed a lot to the team’s No. 22 ranking.
Mary Closs has played in every match this season—minus the day where she only played doubles in the second match of a double header. And after what she claims was a struggling match against Illinois earlier this month, Closs bounced back with a blitzkrieg in the Irish battle to defeat No. 39 Indiana in the following match. Closs defeated Paula Gutierrez 6-4, 6-2, in the only singles match that didn’t go into a third round tiebreaker.
“It’s been really great so far. I’ve loved every minute of it,” the Menlo, Calif. native says. “The college level is more physical—in high school it’s easier to put the ball away quicker. In college, opponents can run you down, making the points a little longer.
“I think its fun competing with a team, going from juniors where you’re competing for just yourself to now where a group wants to win for each other. Everyone gets really into it.”
Being a left-hander and having a strong serve gives Closs a huge advantage on the court. A left-handed serve gives a spin to the ball that most opponents aren’t used to.
“In tennis terms, lefty-forehand goes cross court to righty backhand, you get some advantages there,” Closs explains.
Fighting Irish head coach Jay Louderback knew Closs’s left-handed edge would be good for team during her recruitment.
“Mary is a lefty who is always looking to attack,” Louderback said when Closs signed her letter of intent. “We are very excited to have Mary join the Notre Dame family. She is a great fit academically and athletically.”
As one of the top doubles players in the junior ranks, Closs seemed destined to be a top tennis player as the talent has been passed down by her grandmother.
Closs had trained at the Kim Grant Tennis Academy since she was nine years old, and she contributes her ability to jump right into college play to that training.
“My coach prepared me well. We spent a lot of time on court working on all aspects of the sport,” Closs says. “That helped a lot, especially in the transition game coming into the net because in college tennis, that’s what is really important: the doubles point.”
Her recruiting process was a typical one and chose Notre Dame over Ivy League programs for two of its most powerful attractions: strong athletics and strong academics.
“I love the atmosphere and tradition of Notre Dame,” Closs said. “You see there is so much tradition here, and just being able to be a part of the athletics is really cool. Notre Dame felt like the right fit from the beginning.”
Closs, who plans to major in business, says the season is what she expected to be like so far, with the balance of tennis and schoolwork, and is anxious to see what it will be like when the team is deep into its ACC portion of the schedule.
“I’m looking forward to playing the ACC schools,” she said. “Personally I hope to go out in every match aggressively, and as a team, to do as good as we can and compete as hard as we can in the ACC.”
Closs and the Irish will have their first ACC experience this Friday when they take on Georgia Tech at home to open up play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.