Whether it is standing on the sidelines with her arms crossed, sitting with an arm on the shoulders of a defeated player or clapping and cheering during an intense three-set match, tennis coach Sheila McInerney has done it all.
However, she wants the focus on her team, not her.
McInerney started coaching at ASU 27 seasons ago after a successful collegiate career at USC and a professional career where she played in three Grand Slam venues.
“I started playing when I was about 8 years old in upstate New York,” McInerney said. “I played a lot of junior tennis, even stayed with a family in Florida to get more practice time.”
She took that passion for tennis to USC in 1977. During her time there, McInerney was selected to the All-American team all four years and her team went to the national championships three times.
“I was fortunate to have really good coaches and teammates,” McInerney said.
She credits her collegiate success to having a team that kept her grounded and happy.
“It’s so important to have a coach who is invested in you as a person and a player,” McInerney said.
Thirty years later, McInerney is still in touch with her teammates and is working to create the same positive experience she had at USC for her Sun Devils.
“My biggest win highlight at ASU was when we beat Stanford,” McInerney said. “They’re always certainly one of the best, and our win came down to the last match.”
But individual wins aren’t what keep McInerney going.
“I take pride in the fact that we’re consistently competitive with top tier teams like USC, Cal and UCLA,” she said. “You hear a lot about winning, but that’s not everything.”
Then she laughed and said, “Enough about me.”
The team’s two seniors, Michelle Brycki and Sianna Simmons, are more than just athletic boons for the Sun Devils.
Simmons became a consistent player early in her first year at ASU and has played successfully in the No. 6 spot. Last season, she went 11-17 overall in singles play and had a 7-5 record in dual match play. She also advanced to the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Championships before losing to Kim Stubbe of UA.
“Being a senior is bittersweet for sure,” Simmons said. “It’s bitter because I’m almost done and will be leaving ASU, but it’s sweet because of all the experience I have now and all the great coaching I received.”
She said the ASU program was an opportunity to learn and grow.
“I was looking at film from a couple years ago, and I’m a completely different person now,” Simmons said. “I feel like I grew up here.”
McInerney had only positive things to say about the Atlanta, native.
“Sianna came (to ASU as) a very talented athlete and has come into her own, both as a athlete and as a person,” McInerney said. “She’s a terrific leader and shows up to compete hard every day.”
McInerney also praised her work ethic. Simmons takes two individual practices per week and sets academic goals as a global studies major.
Brycki, a broadcast journalism major, is going to miss spending quality time with the team when she graduates.
“I really enjoyed going away with the team for a chunk of time, going out to dinner and hanging out,” Brycki said. “Tennis-wise, my favorite memories are when we’ve beaten Cal or USC, where it comes down to the last match and everyone’s standing on the court watching as we come out on top.”
In her second season at ASU, Brycki went 14-0 in regular season dual match play and earned a 19-7 overall singles record. Brycki is the first consistent starter to go undefeated during McInerney’s tenure as head coach.
“After playing a lot of junior tennis, Michelle came in and was good off the bat,” McInerney said.
Last season she went 21-13 in overall singles play with an 11-4 regular season dual match record. She also earned Second-Team Pac-10 All-Academic honors with her 3.49 GPA.
This season, she continues to be a force to be reckoned with.
“This year, she’s really loving the game and embracing her senior season,” McInerney said. “Every time she walks out, we are confident she can win.”
Like Simmons, Brycki has stepped into a leadership role.
“After being here three years, the younger players will look up to me regardless, but I decided to lead by example,” Brycki said. “I try to be positive and playful, and lighten the mood when things get too serious.”
Together, the seniors have led by their example of work ethic and quality of character.
“Every day they bring a lot of good attitude and help their teammates,” McInerney said. “It’s been fun to see them grow and mature.”
Looking forward to next season when juniors Nicole Smith and Hannah James step into Brycki and Simmons’ shoes, the team’s attitude is that there won’t be a huge difference.
“Nicky and Hannah have stepped up and are already actively contributing to the team,” Simmons said. “It comes naturally to them, so I’m not worried.”
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