Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 19
 
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
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SMASHING DEBUT: Princeton University women’s tennis coach Megan Bradley has had plenty to smile about this spring in her debut season guiding the program. Under Bradley’s tutelage, the Tigers went 7-0 in Ivy League play as they won their second straight conference crown. Princeton, now 20-5 and ranked 33rd nationally, will start NCAA play with an opening round match at No. 27 Virginia on Friday. The victor will play on Saturday against the winner of the Duke-Long Island matchup for a spot in the NCAA round of 16.

Young Coach Bradley Enjoys Smashing Debut, Guiding PU Women’s Tennis to Ivy Crown, NCAAs

Bill Alden

It looked like Megan Bradley could be in over her head when she was named head coach of the Princeton University women’s tennis team last summer.

Just 26 years old when she was hired, Bradley, a former tennis great at the University of Miami, had a coaching resume that consisted of a few months as a volunteer assistant coach at her alma mater.

Bradley felt the heat in taking over the Princeton program after Kathy Sell stepped down.

“I felt like I had to come in here and prove that I should be here,” said Bradley. “When you are young and given awesome responsibility, a lot of people are watching and you don’t want to blow it. But I didn’t just apply for this job; I had a plan in mind and a vision of what kind of team I wanted to build.”

While Bradley may have been a newcomer to head coaching, she has been exposed to high-level athletics all of her life as the daughter of former Major League Baseball star Phil Bradley.

“I come from a family of athletes,” said Bradley, the ITA Player of the Year and the ACC Player of the Year at Miami where she went 98-17 in singles and 34-4 in doubles. “Whether it is scrabble, bowling, or anything, we compete. I enjoy being around athletes, they are a special breed.”

Bradley proved to be a rare breed of coach this spring, leading the Tigers to a special season which saw them win their second straight Ivy League title, steamrollering through conference play with an unblemished 7-0 mark.

This weekend, the 33rd ranked Tigers will start NCAA play with an opening round match at No. 27 Virginia on Friday. The victor will play on Saturday against the winner of the Duke-Long Island matchup for a spot in the NCAA round of 16.

In assessing her debut season, Bradley deflects the credit for the Tigers’ championship campaign.

“I don’t think I had so much to do with the success of the team,” said Bradley, who has guided the Tigers to a 20-5 mark this spring. “They are amazing kids and they ran with it. I needed to get them to trust me as a person and a coach.”

A critical step in that process came when Princeton struggled in the ECAC Championships in February, falling to Dartmouth and Harvard.

“The turning point was the ECAC when we lost to two Ivy teams; it was like where are we going from here,” recalled Bradley.

“If we continue on this path, it is going to be a long spring. I think they understand at this level that very narrow difference in ability. It comes down to what are you doing with your practice. Are you just hitting the ball or going out on the court with a purpose. Something clicked. They started believing in themselves and feeling that we should be intimidating people. We should be going out to win, and not to keep from losing.”

The Tigers proved to be intimidating in league play as they cruised through the Ivies, going 7-0 with no match closer than 5-2. The celebration after the win over Columbia on the final day of the regular season left some indelible memories for Bradley.

“That was so awesome; it was a highlight,” said Bradley, who was introduced that day to the program’s tradition of celebrating undefeated Ivy seasons with a run through the Woodrow Wilson School fountain.

“The parents were there; it was really fun with the fountain. Everything came together that day; it was a day I won’t forget.”

Bradley won’t soon forget the effort she has gotten from senior star Melissa Saiontz this season.

“Melissa is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen,” added Bradley of the second-team All Ivy performer in singles and doubles. “She took the role of leader; that is not always easy. Things needed to be said at times. That is a really big hole to fill; she is such a competitor.”

Sophomore star Hilary Bartlett has been one of Princeton’s top competitors this spring, making first-team All-Ivy in singles and doubles and getting chosen as the Ivy Player of the Year.

“She is involved in so many things,” said Bradley. “She spent the summer scuba diving in Thailand and working on marine conservation. She comes back and is the No.1 player. For her to be Ivy Player of the Year was an accomplishment in a year with so many good players in the league.”

In Bradley’s view, Princeton’s experience of having fallen 4-3 to Florida International in last year’s NCAA tournament should help the Tigers in the match-up against Virginia.

“I think it is a great matchup; they are well coached and they are hard competitors who fight to the end,” said Bradley.

“Our assistant coach [Amanda Rales] was there last year so she knows a lot about them. It comes down to who executes. Our girls feel they really deserve to be here. We didn’t need to win the Ivy title to make it, we were in with our ranking.”

Bradley wants her players to forget the rankings when they compete this weekend.

“We try to not put added emphasis on any match,” said Bradley, who helped Miami reach the NCAA finals during her playing career there.

“The NCAAs are big and it is exciting but no match is more important than the other. People are pretty banged up at this time of the year; you need to be gritty and you can pull something off.”

In pulling off an Ivy title in her debut season, Bradley had learned some important coaching lessons.

“I came in with all these ideas; I had to soften a bit and be more flexible,” said Bradley.

“I didn’t really understand what the Ivy League athlete goes through. A lot of it is managing personalities; you need to learn how to get the most out of seven girls and get them to understand how much you care even when you make hard decisions that will help them down the road.”

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