Monday, June 2, 2008

Women's Recruiting Class Rankings; Shannon Mathews Wins Fourth State Singles Title

The Tennis Recruiting Network released the Women's Recruiting Class rankings today, and Princeton remains on top, with Georgia in second. Moving up from fifth in the fall to third now is Notre Dame, and without leaving Kalamazoo, I had a chance to watch one of their blue chippers, Shannon Mathews.

Mathews was in town for the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division III (there are four divisions) girls state finals, and she was seeking her fourth straight title, having played No. 1 for Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood since she was a freshman. She got it, with four victories in the two-day event, two of which were 6-0, 6-0. In the final, which I watched, she dispatched Detroit Country Day's Chloe Karoub 6-0, 6-1, with the outcome never in doubt. Karoub, a sophomore, is a former state champion herself, having won at No. 1 singles last year, when Country Day was in Division IV, but she began to sense that she had no chance about midway through the first set. She began to play faster and faster, at times serving her second ball before the first had cleared the court, while Mathews seemed unperturbed. Mathews persistently went for the lines, closed when she had an opportunity and served well, and in addition to her individual title, she helped Cranbrook-Kingswood win the team championship, for the first time since her freshman year.

When I spoke to her afterwards, one of the obvious questions was about the level of competition. Now ranked sixth in the country in the class of 2008, Mathews is not the typical high school tennis player. But she told me that she loved the team aspect of the competition, and she uses her high school matches to work on aspects of her game.

Another interesting phenomenon is the attention paid to high school athletics, which often results in state champions receiving much more media attention than they would if they were to win a USTA event. I've often spoken about this with Southern California and Florida parents, where the big daily newspapers have a tradition of covering high school sports, but not national junior tennis events. And Mathews is hardly the only blue chip to play high school tennis this year. Southern Californians Ryan Thacher and Bradley Klahn, Stanford's blue chip recruits, both played for their high schools, as did Brennan Boyajian, Missy Clayton and Rachel Saiontz in Florida. But the coverage is relentlessly local. The Kalamazoo Gazette didn't mention Mathews in its story, despite the fact that she is only the third girl to win four straight. Instead, the newspaper's focus was on the more local Allegan doubles team that won a title in the third flight.

Mathews had a theory on that.

"A lot of people around the area really follow high school teams, especially if they went to school there," Mathews said. "The whole team part of it helps; the USTA doesn't necessarily get that much publicity."

For an in-depth feature on Mathews by The Oakland Press, which was written before her fourth title, click here. The change in the girls season from fall to spring resulted in a long time between state championships for girls, and two in one year (2007) for boys.