Toughness, rising to challenges part of DNA for Sellyn

May 13, 2014

By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation 

Women’s tennis coach Geoff Macdonald never saw Georgina Sellyn play tennis before he offered her a scholarship to play at Vanderbilt.

He didn’t need to. Her toughness spoke volumes.

With the death of his mother, Macdonald was not able to go to Bradenton, Fla., to watch Sellyn play. So, assistant coach Aleke Tsoubanos, whom Macdonald has “total trust” in, flew down to watch Sellyn.

Travel problems delayed Sellyn in getting in the night before. But she didn’t ask to push back her workout the next morning. She played in front of Tsoubanos on just four hours of sleep. On top of it, she became ill and began to vomit.

But she didn’t tell Tsoubanos and kept playing.

“We were impressed with her toughness,” Macdonald said. “She washed out her mouth and came out and practiced another hour and a half. You look a lot for toughness. That was an extreme example of that. But we weren’t getting a lot of chances to get to know to her. So it was a very telling anecdote.”

Taking on challenges is nothing new for Sellyn, who rose to the No. 1 singles position as a sophomore this season and last weekend helped the Commodores punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 with a 4-2 win over Georgia Tech.

On top of this, she recorded an impressive 3.9 GPA during the fall as a cognitive neuroscience major. Sellyn is entertaining thoughts of medical school—if playing professionally doesn’t work out.

“She’s not a genius, but she is pretty good at everything,” her mother, Yvette Sellyn, said, smiling. “As a young child whatever you gave her, she could do. She was like three years old and we asked do you want to do ballet? Yes. (Field) hockey? Yes. Ice skating? Yes. Swimming? Yes. She sang in the choir—she had a terrible voice—for the Scottish Orchestra. She was doing everything.”

Tennis came on the scene late for Sellyn, who grew up in Glasgow, Scotland.

An avid swimmer, Sellyn spent hours in the pool perfecting the breaststroke. She picked up a racket when she was 10 but didn’t play competitively until 13. She became engrossed in the sport after spending hours at the tennis court at a summer camp near her house because her parents “wanted to get rid of me for one summer.”

One day, after seven years of swimming lessons, she decided she didn’t want to juggle two sports anymore. She quit swimming and put her sole focus on tennis. She even used her pocket money to pay for a second tennis lesson.

“I was more mature when I came to start practicing than the girls that started at five and six,” she said. “I really enjoyed it, and that was a big part of it. I wanted to be there, and I wanted to practice. I didn’t mind putting in all the hours.”

At age 15, her parents decided to move to the United States, in part for her father, Johnny’s, job, but in large part to offer Georgina more resources and better facilities to improve at tennis.

Her family moved to Bradenton, Fla., and the relocation paid off. She played in the Wimbledon juniors in July 2012, a month before arriving at Vanderbilt. Her backhand improved into what Macdonald called a great-looking shot. Her movement on the court also caught the eye of Macdonald and Tsoubanos.

“She never looks like she is hurrying, but she is covering an enormous amount of work,” Macdonald said. “It is easy for her. Late bloomers do really well in college. They are really keen and still motivated to get better. We like late bloomers.”

She continues to blossom in college. As a freshman, Sellyn played anywhere from No. 4 to No. 6 in singles. But after finishing with a 23-10 record, including 12-1 at the No. 4 position, Sellyn elevated to the No. 1 singles this season.

“She is playing her role and understands what she has to do to play No. 1,” Macdonald said. “You have to be resilient, and you have to be process-oriented. You might play a great match and come up short. You have to look for the positives in that.”

Sellyn’s pursuit of excellence carries over into the classroom.

She was named to the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll in 2013. Undecided on a major when she came to college, she took a neuroscience course.

“I loved it,” she said. “I’ve also been interested in the body. When I was injured in the training room, I was questioning everyone. ‘What’s wrong with you? Why does it hurt?’ I was always interested in biology and what happens in the body. I find the brain really interesting. There is a lot going on and new developments all the time.”

After college, Sellyn plans to stay in the U.S. to pursue her post-grad endeavors, whether that is tennis or medical school. Her mother lives in Florida, along with some aunts and uncles. Her father stays in S cotland but comes to Florida frequently for work. In fact, her parents, her uncle from Kazikstan and her 83-year-old grandmother attended a home match last month.

Aside from being fearful her Scottish accent is fading, she is content at Vanderbilt and in America—even when challenges arise. But tough situations seem to bring out the best in Sellyn.

“School is tough and it is tough to juggle but I’m so happy here,” she said. “I love the coaches and the team. I’m getting everything I could possibly need.””



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