April 21, 2015
Transitioning to college life can be an arduous challenge. Adjusting to the rigor of collegiate classes and mastering the dramatic change in personal responsibility are just two of the mountains that freshmen must scale -- and student-athletes add in a year-long commitment to conditioning and their season as well as a grueling travel schedule.
For University of Notre Dame women's tennis player Allison Miller, the obstacles have been conquered with strength and poise.
Miller rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory against Duke's Charlena Scholl on Sunday in a match that started outdoors and was moved inside to the Eck Tennis Pavilion when rain swept across the Courtney Tennis Center courts.
Unfazed by falling down a set and unperturbed by the move, Miller methodically pushed Scholl into critical errors with a lethal left-handed attack.
By the time Miller walked off the court with the victory, she had the only individual Notre Dame triumph in a 4-1 Irish setback at the hands of No. 23 Duke. Miller's record in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference improved to 10-3, the best league mark among the Irish women's tennis players.
Next up for Miller and the No. 33 Irish (14-9, 8-6 ACC) will be the ACC Championships this weekend in Cary, North Carolina. The Irish are the No. 7 seed and play the winner of No. 10 Florida State and No. 15 Pittsburgh at noon EDT Thursday.
Miller's efforts have the Irish on course to advance to the NCAA Championships for the 20th consecutive season and 22nd season overall.
"I was just trying to make her hit a lot of balls and then go for my shots when I needed to," Miller said of her three-set victory against Scholl. "When I got the short forehand, it was important I step up on it and not play too safe. She was getting a little tired on her backhand. It was a fine line in terms of what I had to do to be aggressive and stay consistent."
Miller, who is from Norcross, Georgia, is a veteran of playing in pressure situations. Her three-set battle against Scholl was her 11th three-set match in her past 18 outings. It was Scholl's first complete three-set match of her season.
"Allie stays calm, which is key to playing close matches," said Julie Vrabel, Miller's doubles partner. "She's really tough mentally as a freshman, coming in and playing older girls in a tough conference."
Getting used to the collegiate level of tennis has been a considerable test for Miller.
"It's not an easy transition," Miller said. "It's a lot different from junior tennis. Everyone plays so differently. It's tough to adjust to the schedule and the classes. It's a lot different routine. You don't always feel like you have your ducks in a row, so you just have to go out there and do the best you can. A lot of times it comes down to who can control their emotions better and fight the hardest."
Irish head coach Jay Louderback is pleased with Miller's outstanding freshman season considering the challenges that freshmen face.
"She played a lot of high-level junior tennis, which really helped her coming into college. But I think a lot of it is that she has adjusted well," Louderback said. "The thing that gets tough as a freshman in the ACC is the travel. We start traveling a lot, and the kids are getting back late. Usually, in the juniors, you get in two days early and you have two days to practice. In college, you're lucky if you get in and have one day.
"That's a big adjustment," Louderback said of the schedule. "And yet I don't think that's bothered Allie at all. She's had no problem with the travel. She's done a good job of adjusting to that. It's tough in the ACC."
Vrabel said Miller's mental toughness has been a key factor in her success.
"I think Allie is really good at balancing school and tennis," Vrabel said. "She works very hard on the court, and that's good to see in a freshman. She has a lot of drive. She's a great fighter and a great competitor. It's a great experience playing doubles with her because she's always so supportive and positive.
"Allie has a great game. She's very consistent. She's a smart player. She knows how to work an opponent."
Scoring points for the Irish has meant more to Miller than her 22-9 record and team-best 10-3 ACC record.
"The ACC is so tough and there are so many good matches, but that's what I wanted to do," Miller said of playing for a high-quality program like Notre Dame. "I wanted to put up a good record and build my way up from there. I want to get as many wins as I can for the team. That's the main thing, putting points on the board for my team."
One of the reasons for Miller's success is her keen ability to use her left-handed advantage against opponents.
"Being a left-hander is a huge advantage in tennis, because you're serving to your opponent's backhand, and usually the backhand is the weaker side," Louderback said. "Kids aren't used to getting stretched out wide on the ad side because of the left hand. It makes a very big difference. Allie uses it well, and she's working on making it even more of an advantage.
"It's a different spin when the ball comes at you. There are a lot of weird things about a serve from a left-hander. It's a serve into the body, and if you serve into the body, players aren't used to it coming that way."
Miller said she knows her opponents are unfamiliar with facing a left-hander.
"I try to use it on my serve and open up the court," Miller said. "I have the move out wide on their backhand, and sometimes people don't like to do that. I'm lucky. I try to use it to my advantage, for sure."
Miller has been a steady contributor to the Irish attack at No. 5 singles as well as doubles, and Louderback sees her moving up the ranks.
"Allie's potential is unlimited," Louderback said. "She works extremely hard. She puts in a lot of extra hours. We'll practice at 10 in the morning on Saturday, and she'll have been on the ball machine since 8. I feel like she can move up a couple of levels."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent