Ellis enjoys All-American homecoming
May 27, 2011
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In 1986, a Stanford superstar by the name of Patty Fendick won the NCAA singles title at UT’s Penick-Allison Tennis Center.
Twenty-five years later, Texas sophomore Aeriel Ellis wants to return the favor and win a national championship on her coach’s old home courts this week at Stanford.
The same San Francisco Bay Area in which Fendick, now UT head women’s tennis coach Patty Fendick-McCain, called home as a collegiate standout is special to Ellis, too. It is home, after all. Ellis grew up a 30-minute drive across the bay from Stanford in Hayward, California. So, when Ellis on Thursday became UT’s first women’s tennis All-American in 11 years with a three-set upset win over Washington’s fourth-seeded Denise Dy, it meant that much more.
“I was really excited,” Ellis laughed. “It seemed like I had my whole family out here watching. I had some of my old coaches here, along with my parents and my brother. It was really nice to win out here.”
Ellis had met her opponent, Washington’s Dy, earlier in the dual-match season and took a three-set defeat. With only Dy standing in her way of earning All-America honors, the Californian with the crisp backhand was determined to turn the result around this time.
Dy took the first set, but what Ellis learned enabled her to take command in the ensuing two sets.
“In the first set, I figured out how I wanted to play her,” Ellis recalled. “She was playing really well and I went down 5-2. In the second set, my game plan was to keep the ball higher to her forehand and wait for chances to attack. But, I really needed to have my running shoes on. She made me hit a lot of balls and did not give me anything.”
Ellis claimed the second set, 6-3 to push the match to the decisive third set. Dy served the first game in the final set, and Ellis fought off Dy’s efforts to hold serve and came through with a pivotal service break.
“That might have been the luckiest game I’ve ever played,” Ellis said with a laugh. “I had a lot of break points, and she had a lot of chances to hold serve. But, I won that game, and I needed it.”
Ellis held serve and broke Dy once more to assume a 3-0 lead on her way to a 6-2 third-set victory that sent her into the round of 16 and gave her All-America status.
“Aeriel played very disciplined tennis, very smart tennis,” Fendick-McCain said. “She raised her level of play when she needed to, and she was able to sustain it the whole time.”
Ellis came to Stanford this week having qualified for all six national championship events contested in her nearly two complete seasons of college tennis. And now, Ellis claims the well-earned title of All-American.
“It’s always a big deal for anyone to become an All-American,” Ellis said. “I knew if I played well this week that I would have a shot at it. My coaches have helped me with my confidence. Being able to stay positive is crucial to my success. I was confident today and knew I could do what it took to win the match.”
Fendick-McCain sees a different player than the one who won over 30 matches last season and fell just short of earning All-America honors.
“Aeriel has grown up a lot between this year and last year and she has a completely different perspective on things. She trained hard coming into this event and came here with the right mindset. It’s nice to see it come together at a really good time for her.”
A good time, indeed. Perhaps this week will be like 1986 all over again.
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