Campbell delivers on Senior Day

April 16, 2017

By Zac Ellis

NASHVILLE, Tenn.Sydney Campbell glanced at the scoreboard at Vanderbilt’s Currey Tennis Center and realized a striking reality.

The Commodores’ shot at the regular-season SEC championship – a first in program history – might come down to her.

On Sunday, as No. 5 Vanderbilt took on No. 1 Florida on West End, the Commodores held a slim 3-2 lead over the Gators with two singles matches still in play: Campbell against 14th-ranked Josie Kuhlman on Court 2 and freshman Emma Kurtz against No. 37 Anna Danilina on Court 4. But Kurtz, who had lost her first set, would need to force a third from Danilina for a chance to win. Campbell – a 7-6 winner in her first set – simply needed to close things out against Kuhlman.

Campbell held a 40-30 advantage on a 5-4 lead in the second set when Kuhlman served. After a series of returns, the senior Commodore used a vicious overhead shot to drill the decisive point past Kuhlman. With that, Campbell’s teammates swarmed the victorious senior, who had just secured Vanderbilt’s first regular-season SEC title in program history.

“I lost a heartbreaker two years ago in the same position, so it’s really nice to, as a senior, come out and pull it out for us,” Campbell said.

Indeed, Campbell authored a bit of redemption on Sunday. Two seasons ago, she fell in the deciding set of a match against Texas A&M that cost Vanderbilt the SEC regular-season title in 2015. But Florida faced a more polished, veteran Campbell in Vanderbilt’s lineup. Prior to the match, the Franklin, Tenn. native was honored alongside teammate Georgina Sellyn during Senior Day festivities. The spotlight made Campbell’s performance that much more impressive to her head coach.

“Imagine that pressure that was on her,” coach Geoff Macdonald said. “And to handle it like that, I liken it to having to kick a field goal to win the Super Bowl, into the wind from about 45 yards – for about half an hour.”

What pressure? Campbell welcomed the challenge.

“I had time to kind of prepare myself for it,” Campbell said. “That situation is what everyone wants and dreams of having. I enjoyed having everyone watching and cheering me on.”

The fifth-ranked Commodores beat Florida by a final score of 4-2. By virtue of Georgia’s loss to Texas A&M on Sunday, Vanderbilt ended up clinching the outright SEC regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in next week's SEC Tournament. A regular-season title had eluded Macdonald during an otherwise stellar tenure on West End; the 22nd-year head coach led Vanderbilt to the SEC and NCAA championships in 2015 and is the program’s active leader in career wins.

Afterward, Campbell said she revels in adding another bullet point to Macdonald’s résumé.

“It’s amazing,” Campbell said. “To be a part of all the firsts in my four years, ending it this way is really fitting. Coach does everything for us and works extremely hard. I’m really glad that he finally got this.”

Now Campbell, Macdonald and the rest of the Commodores hope to carry momentum into next week’s SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt hosts the conference tournament at the Currey Center beginning on Wednesday. That’s yet another test for the Dores as they navigate the country’s toughest tennis conference.

“We often think of the SEC or the SEC Tournament as being as difficult as NCAAs,” Macdonald said. “There’s no difference; you’re playing the best teams in the country. To [win the SEC Tournament] would be amazing, but right now we’re just going to enjoy this.”

Campbell has reason to celebrate following her performance on Senior Day. Still, she knows the season isn’t over. Back in 2015, she helped Vanderbilt rebound from the loss to Texas A&M by winning the SEC tournament and NCAA championship.

Now, with the wind at their backs, Campbell and the Commodores are hungry for more once again.

“Now it’s basically a new season, which is awesome,” Campbell said. “We’re all really excited for what’s in store at the SEC Tournament.”
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