Maddie Lynch prepares to hit a backhand.

Feb. 18 – Maddie Lynch

Maddie Lynch, a junior member of the women’s tennis team, sat down with Jack McKenney and Jake Stuart to talk about her pathway to Winston-Salem, the team’s dominance and her connections with her teammates. Lynch and her doubles partner Mia Ahmad were 4-0 in the spring season. 

This Feb. 18 interview has been transcribed and edited for clarity and AP style. Listen to the full episode here and don’t forget to subscribe to the Old Gold & In Your Ears channel found on all podcasting platforms.

Jack McKenney: Thank you so much for coming. It’s awesome to have you and great to have a fellow tennis player on. One thing I’m very curious about is, that I know that the tennis recruiting process is crazy. I played in some of those USTA tournaments with the crazy parents. That’s a lot of pressure. 

Maddie Lynch: It really is.

JM: It’d be great for you to just talk about, one, the pressure that you felt like playing in those tournaments, and two, what your recruiting process was like.

ML: My recruiting process wasn’t really filled with a ton of pressure. I honestly thought I was going to play college tennis somewhere. Somewhere is going to want you, you know? It’s kind of a really interesting way of thinking, but I always knew that I was going to play by some sort of degree. Where I was going to play, was what stressed me out. I was looking at some Ohio schools, I’m originally from Ohio, so I was looking at Ohio State, and schools like that. Wake Forest wasn’t really on my radar until the end of my process when I had played a tournament in winter. It was called Winter Nationals, and it was the last tournament before the new year, my junior year. I had played it and done really well, and then Wake reached out to me. They were like, “this is one of the first messages we’re sending anybody to play that tournament, we want you to get on campus and visit”. 

I was like, 100%, this is the most big-time school name that has reached out to me at this point, I’m definitely going to secure this opportunity. And little did I know, I knew I was going to love it, but I ended up loving, loving it, and then just committed here early. I actually committed here earlier than a lot of my friends did, so that pressure was sort of earlier for me than junior year.

JM: Well, that’s great, because that’s the time when you’re doing the applications. You’re kind of set in stone where you’re going, and then have less stuff to worry about. And it’s not as much exactly which I think it’s a huge relief.

ML: Exactly. And I will say one more thing to add to that. It was really interesting to see how late some of my other friends committed. They had to deal with like a lot of this, “oh, my God, nobody wants me, I’m so stressed out”, and it really took a toll on their mental health. I can see how [committing early] gave me confidence for the rest of my years in high school.

JM: I think the mental health aspect is really interesting. When you’re competing in these tournaments, it’s a lot, right? Your parents are investing all this money in your training, you have to pay to play in those tournaments, they’re really pouring in a lot for you to play tennis and become a good player. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s kind of in the back of your mind, so that pressure is really there. And I think you can take a toll on you for sure.

ML: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. And that was something that I was saying in the back of my mind playing juniors. Oh, we’re flying all the way down to Florida, and, I lose in the first round. It’s hard to deal with that, but it’s also kind of the reality of the sport. You’re not going to the next match. You know, at the end of the day, I really stressed this, and it took me a while to understand it, and it’s sports are about just honestly a lot of fun and really enjoying what you’re doing. Trying to be the best you can be all the time, and really engaging and challenging yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever, constantly. So that was kind of my big thing in that it was always a struggle to deal with.

Jake Stuart: You talked about playing tennis in Ohio, and I don’t know where we found this stat, so don’t ask us. But you had a high school record of 107-6 and four consecutive state championships. So obviously, high-level tennis, and you come here, you’re playing for an amazing tennis team. What goes into your guys’ routine? What’s your guys’ mindset?

ML: In high school or here? 

JS: Both.

ML: I mean, in high school, we were the best team in the state of Ohio. It’s hands down. We won state every year. We never lost a team match. People lost matches in the team, but never lost any of the team. So we pretty much dominated. There were five girls, including me that played college tennis. So it was a pretty big group of D-III or D-I.They had that level of commitment after high school to some degree. It was just always Hathaway Brown. The school Hathaway Brown was a tennis school. We were known for our tennis and everybody kind of knew who I was, who the top players were. I played second in our school like we had some really high-level junior players. 

And then that carried out to college. Wake is also a very, very good tennis program. We’re top-30 consistently. I think that that kind of translates to me a lot. We’re winning a lot of those ACC matches, but we’re also losing some. So not that that was really hard for me, because ultimately I have been losing matches all my life. But when I came to school here, the level of commitment, the people, and the intensity were way stronger than it was in high school. And I think that that that was kind of the next step in high school versus college tennis.

JM: Well, this is kind of a deep question, but I want to kind of feed off of it. I think it’s interesting to bring up in high school and in your tournaments, you are dominating. How do you deal with losing? Because that’s something that’s really tough. Especially in tennis, it’s kind of a mind game. That has to be hard, especially when you’ve had a history of just domination.

ML: Right? It’s hard, I will say. You’re out there alone, especially in singles, in doubles you’re with a partner but you’re still competing. Speaking about singles, you’re out there alone, you have all these thoughts going through your head. And a lot of those thoughts are not good. Maybe they’re good some days, maybe they’re bad some days. That’s kind of the way sports work. Dealing with failure and loss is a thing that just I feel like all athletes have to deal with. And then constantly, “I want to be better, I want to do better, I want to redeem myself” is a thing that you have to have that level of dedication, or else you will not be successful. You’re going lose, you’re going to lose, you’re going to get beat, you’re going to beat yourself, maybe even sometimes, you’re going to feel like so much failure. You got to kind of get up and be okay with it at the end of the day.

JS: So I know we talked about this before we started recording, but it’s something that I had questions about. As somebody that follows tennis, but maybe doesn’t watch it all the time, especially this time of year in the winter, how much does playing indoor versus outdoor change? Do you have adjustments that you have to go through?

ML: I will say there are people who play better inside and people who are outside. Me being from Ohio, I play inside a lot. But I will say my game, I like to play outside more. You have more time, the ability to move more, you can kind of use your strengths. My strengths are better outside than inside. Inside, it’s a totally different game. Sometimes it’s who can hit harder, who can hit more winners. Outside, you have to be crafty. Okay, I have to hit this spot and make them get this shot. I have to be on the offensive or I have to be on the defensive sort of thing. It’s a little bit more. You have to deal with a little bit of the wind, you have to deal with the sun, you have to deal with those other elements. Whereas inside, you know, courts are either fast or slow. the ball bounces either quickly or slowly. So there are definitely big adjustments. I will say though because it’s so inconsistent where we play —  inside for Tuesday and Thursday for morning practice, and then Monday, Wednesday, we will play outside — it’s hard to kind of get into a rhythm, because you’re constantly doing both. But that’s also another challenging task of tennis itself. There are two different game styles for both indoor and outdoor.

JS: So building on that, how much does a strategy change when you’re playing in singles? Or when you’re playing with Mia [Ahmad] in doubles? What is the difference in play?

ML: That’s a great question. So when Mia and I are playing doubles, what we’re trying to do, to my knowledge, is she’s trying to be aggressive, because she has a big ball. She’s an aggressive player. She’s trying to be aggressive, and I’m trying to pose a point at the net. That’s my skill, are in my volleys, in my hands. Her skill is her returns or serves, her groundstrokes that really cause other people to make mistakes. She’s a powerhouse. She’s got so much power it’s hard to hit her ball, and that sets me up. Then the other way, when she’s at the net she’s also doing the same thing. So it’s not just, “she has this role, I have this role”, doubles is constantly trying to get people to make an error or force them to hit a weaker shot so that your partner could step up.

JS: And you guys are constantly communicating between points.

ML: Constantly. Every point we’re saying where we’re going to serve, which way the volleyer is going to move to the net. Even if we’re returning, not even serving, we’re communicating where we’re going to hit the return, crosscourt, down the line. It’s constant communication that we have. Even during the point mine, “yours”, “mine”. It’s a situation like that in doubles.

JM: So, Mia is definitely more of an indoor player?

ML: Yes, she’s a strong indoor player. She’s also from New York, so she probably has a lot of experience with playing inside like me. I wouldn’t say like somebody’s indoor and somebody’s outdoor. I would say like, some people’s strengths match better indoors and outdoor, you know?

JM: Talk a little bit more about the team chemistry and who you’ve gotten close with on the team.

ML: I think just because we are the same year, Anna Campana and I have gotten close. We came in as freshmen together, and we also struggled freshman year together. We had morning lifts and morning practice. It was brutal, and it was a really tough transition. We had to be up at 6 a.m. every day that first semester. We lived close to each other, so we’re both like, “wow, is this really college tennis?” This is a grind. We couldn’t really manage the other stuff. Eventually, we did, and we struggled together. But then we came out stronger in the end, and she’s been one of my closest friends and closest supporters. She’s a great person and her sister [Carolyn Campana], just because they’re naturally so close, I became close with her through Anna. She transferred from Vanderbilt, so she was here my first year, but she’s a year older. She’s an unreal player, she’s just such a great leader, on and off the court. Whenever I’m playing, she’s sitting on the side of the court coaching me, hyping me up. Great people. 

I would say those are two of the most influential people in my college tennis career so far. It took me a little bit to realize that those are your really good friends, because they’re also your competitors at the same time, you know, and not that I’m competing with them. Tennis is such an individual sport that it’s hard to make that team. But you know, we’ve kind of done that. We’ve kind of made it our own little situation. Even just the other day, I told Anna some news, and she’s just so happy for me. That’s what real friends are, you know what I mean? So, definitely, that chemistry is great with those two girls. Anna now is my roommate. We have a good time.

JM: Yeah, well, personally, I would say that me and Jake would probably be cut from the team if we had to wake up at 6 a.m. every morning. We would not be on the roster.

JS: I’d last a week. Maybe not a week.

ML: I will tell you, it was hard.

JS: I know, tennis especially as far as traveling, you’re playing a lot of games in Winston, then you’re gone for a while. What is it like to travel and then have to come back and readjust?

ML: I mean, people ask me this similar question, how have you done your time management skills throughout high school?  And I would just say I’m so used to it, because I’ve done it forever. Traveling and then going back and having school the next day. I’m just so used to that even missing some days for school. For junior tennis, you miss Mondays a lot, you miss a day of school here, you miss maybe Thursday, Friday, and maybe even Monday sometimes. So I’m just kind of used to it by this point, which is weird to say. But it is tough when you have professors that aren’t understanding or a lot of assignments. 

You don’t really get a lot of work done. This is like an inside scoop. You don’t get a lot of work done when you are traveling and with the team. And after that, you’re dead. You’re just tired from the day, You’re drained. You’re there all day and whatnot. So you don’t really get a lot done. There’ll be some weekends where I just don’t even do any work, because we’ll be traveling and whatever. But then sometimes in Winston-Salem, it’s a little bit easier, because we can sleep in our own beds wake up, start the day Sunday if we don’t have matches. This weekend, we have two matches on Saturday, probably go through normal everything on Sunday. 

JM: That’ll be nice.

ML: Yeah, it’s nice to be home. But it’s also really fun to travel. it’s fun to see all the facilities, travel with the team, make those experiences, make those memories, and everything like that.

JS: This is a question that we’ve been asking all the athletes we’ve had, but if you had to describe your coach in a few words, Jeff Wyshner, how would you describe him?

ML: A few words or one word? I mean, the guy likes statistics. He’s a very, very smart man. I’m not like that. I don’t really think very math oriented. Personally, I’m more of a writer myself, that’s kind of my strong suit always got through math pretty well, though. Not saying I’m bad at it. But you know, he will give all these percentages and mappings and I was like, “what?”

He’s a great guy, a great coach, and very supportive of me, very supportive of my future. I mean, I do have two extra years of eligibility. So I’ll be planning for graduate school. He’s been supported with that. He’s so great with talking to coaches for me and all that stuff. So I will say he’s a great guy, a great mentor to me.

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