After 32 successful seasons at the helm of ASU women's tennis, it would be easy for Sheila McInerney to look back at her accomplishments and feel that she's reached the pinnacle of her coaching career.
Instead, the most-tenured coach at ASU enters the 2016 season with a sense of urgency, looking to take the Sun Devils to new heights.
"If anything in the last 12 years we haven't made the Sweet Sixteen, so that's a little bit of a thorn in my side, it's just irritating," McInerney said. "The goal of the University, Dr. (Michael) Crow, and Ray Anderson is top-five athletic programs."
Since taking the position in 1985, McInerney's teams have won 481 matches, and appeared in the NCAA Tournament 29-straight times.
The remarkable consistency that has defined her legendary career doesn't end there.
Under McInerney, the Sun Devils have finished inside the top 38 nationally every season, including 13 top-10 and 19 top-20 finishes, respectively.
"Sheila has been the ideal ambassador for this university and the game of tennis, excelling both athletically and academically," athletic director Ray Anderson said in a statement. "This program is continuously improving under her direction, and that has a direct correlation to the migration of the ITA to Tempe. I cannot imagine anyone else leading our young women and this program. She is the true representation of a Sun Devil."
The 2015 season was arguably one of the best in program history. The Sun Devils finished the regular season 17-5 overall (8-2 Pac-12), representing the best conference finish in school history. In addition, the Sun Devils defeated Stanford for the first time in McInerney's career.
Although she maintains high expectations for the program, the 32-year ASU veteran understands that success is not always instant.
"I think the fact that I was more of a journeymen as a professional, I think you realize how hard it is," she said. "The game never came easy to me."
Realizing this, McInerney believes the collegiate tennis experience is more about how the kids bond with each other throughout the season.
"They love to practice with seven other teammates," she said. "It's all a one-stop shop: You get your tennis, your conditioning and your nutrition, and I think that really builds team chemistry."
At the heart of McInerney's philosophy is her holistic approach, which encompasses more than just what an athlete does on the court. She makes it a priority to have a fun environment, and to care about each student's life inside and outside the classroom.
"I think it's a culture that you and the athletic department set," McInerney said. "You've got all the resources available for these kids that anybody should embrace, and you've got happy kids, and happy kids play better tennis."
Assistant coach Matt Langley added that he loves working with McInerney because of her structured coaching style, calling her "one of the most respected coaches in college tennis."
According to her players, including senior Alexandra Osborne, the way she coaches has only made the team work that much harder, leading to overall success.
"Sheila is an awesome coach," Osborne said. "The way she talks to you really resonates with you, and it helps you learn the game of tennis and improve your game, and you just trust her."
When asked about what the future holds, McInerney said she'll keep coaching as long as she can keep up with her team.
"I think I have as much energy as the youngsters," she said.
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