Pair of Southern Saints Fitting Nicely in the North
Oct. 8: As junior tennis players begin looking towards a collegiate career, many in the south tend to think that heading north may be a mistake. However, as the South Carolina duo of Elkie Vandenbeemt and Morgan McNeal are finding, coming north to play for the women's tennis team at St. Lawrence University turned out to be a perfect fit.
Vandenbeemt and McNeal both played tennis at the highly-regarded Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in Hilton Head, SC. There, they received outstanding coaching and player development that would prepare them to move on to the next level.
"It is hard to leave an environment like Smith Stearns because you really become part of a family there," explained Vandenbeemt, a 2012 All-Conference honoree who is currently competing in her sophomore year at St. Lawrence. "However, I've found that I have a family at St. Lawrence as well. I have been pushed in both academics and in tennis, and both have been an incredibly rewarding experience."
Elkie made an immediate impact with the Saints in her rookie season, finishing with a 15-2 overall record in singles at the No. 2 position. She was also 12-5 at No. 1 doubles, and earned All-Conference honors in each field. With a year under her belt in the North Country, she continued to contribute to the program by reaching out to a St. Lawrence prospective student: Morgan McNeal.
"Elkie persuaded me to come visit and I instantly fell in love with the campus, the people and the environment," said McNeal, who picked up a convincing straight-set victory in her first collegiate dual-match at No. 2 singles this fall, and teamed with Vandenbeemt in doubles. "This is the perfect environment for anyone looking to focus on their studies while being able to compete at the collegiate level."
Though both Vandenbeemt and McNeal chose St. Lawrence, there is a natural flinch from many in warmer climates who have heard rumors regarding weather in the Northeast. Vandenbeemt has a message for those facing a possible decision in the future: don't let the weather dictate your decision.
"If I had to give advice to players in the south, I would say not to let the cold weather scare you away!" said the Hilton Head native. "St. Lawrence is an incredible community of people who really care about each other. My team has taught me so much, it's definitely an opportunity I wouldn't trade for anything."
Meanwhile, McNeal will continue to gather new experiences later this year.
"Coming from the south, it has not been the drastic transition one might assume," said the Saint rookie. "However, I've never lived in an area where it snowed! I can't wait to spend four years here and compete for the Saints."
"Both Elkie and Morgan are perfect examples of the type of student-athletes our tennis programs are looking for," said St. Lawrence head coach Jeremy Freeman. "Not only do they have great personalities, but they come from a tennis pedigree that will make them successful in our conference as well as regionally and nationally. Most importantly, they are excellent students who will take advantage of our academic programs, and I am proud that these two ladies are Saints."
Both Vandenbeemt and McNeal will be in action this weekend when the Scarlet and Brown compete in the 2012 New York State Championships at Ithaca College.