BOWLING GREEN - Many times when Maddy Eccleston stepped on the tennis court while in high school she found herself struggling to maintain focus and concentration.
The two-time City League player of the year went into most of her league matches understanding another decisive victory awaited her. Long before she'd step on the court she knew she had most of her opponents beat. So did many of her opponents.
The St. Ursula Academy graduate didn't take long to realize that wouldn't be the case in her freshman year at Bowling Green State University. "I thought the biggest difference was the level of competition," Eccleston said. "No matter who you're playing it's always going to be a good match. You go into every match expecting to play for a long time and try to do whatever it takes to win. In college, everyone goes out with the same mind-set and that's to win."
Practice sessions and matches against Mid-American Conference foes forced her to raise her game. Steady competition required improving all aspects of her skills. Her serve. Her backhand. Her groundstrokes.
More significantly, Eccleston, who finished her freshman year second on the team in wins, including an overall record of 40-21 (18-13 singles, 22-8 doubles), finished her first year playing tennis at BG realizes her work requires more than just becoming better with her two-hand backhand.
"I need to work on my overall fitness," she said. "It's not necessarily my cardio, but it takes getting used to the amount of time playing in a match. With all the conditioning and lifting it was a lot of work on our bodies."
Yet, she certainly held her own as a first-year college player. Her 22 wins in doubles, playing alongside BG teammate Christine Chiricosta for 20 of those victories, rank 10th all time on the Falcons' single-season doubles victories list. Eccleston and Chiricosta, a junior, finished 16-6 in dual matches and 6-2 in MAC regular-season play as the Falcons' No. 1 doubles team.
"It was probably the most challenging but the best experience and fun I've ever had playing tennis," Eccleston said. "Christine was more experienced than I was, so it made me play at a higher level."
Eccleston's challenges on the court in high school typically took place during her annual quest to try and win a state championship. A four-year letter-winner at St. Ursula, she posted a stellar 85-7 record in singles matches. The Arrows' top singles player helped St. Ursula win the City League title outright in 2008 and share it in 2006.
She came up short of winning a state title, but finished third in the Division I state tennis doubles competition with teammate Morgan Bechtel.
Several MAC schools showed interest in her after she reached the Division I state tennis semifinals. Her choice of a college came down to a MAC school not too far from home, narrowing her choices to BGSU and the University of Toledo.
"In the end, I liked the team atmosphere at Bowling Green," she said. "I liked the campus atmosphere at Bowling Green a little bit better. … BG fit me better."
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org