Women’s Tennis: From England to Evanston, whirlwind for Murray

Jimmy Mitchell

Much has changed for junior Samantha Murray during the past three years.

As a senior at Altrincham Grammar in England, Murray chose to forgo a British education at Durham, Leeds or Bath and instead traveled across the Atlantic to attend Northwestern.

For Murray, NU represented the best of both worlds.

“I wanted to come to America because, at home, you either go to a university or you play tennis professionally,” she said. “There’s not really an opportunity to do both together at a high standard like there is here.”

In choosing NU, Murray made her decision based on the school’s top reputation in both athletics and academics. When she came to Evanston in the fall of 2006, the women’s tennis program was already the winner of eight consecutive Big Ten championships.

But the Wildcats were far from the top-ranked juggernaut they would eventually become.

“My freshman year, I never really considered (becoming number one),” Murray said. “I knew that we were a top ten team, and I guess I didn’t really know what extra it took to be number one. I never really expected it, but obviously we kept working hard and brought in some really great players, and that really helps.”

Murray’s three years at NU have seen the evolution of a young, inexperienced team into one that is mature and relentless. The Cats’ current lineup boasts three seniors and two juniors, not including sophomore Maria Mosolova – the No. 1 singles player in the nation.

The growth of the culture of winning for NU’s tennis program has raised the bar for what is considered possible. The Cats’ recent victory at the ITA National Indoor Team Championship – the first ever for NU – is evidence of this newfound philosophy, Murray said.

“If you look at (the ITC) alone my freshman year, it was our goal to just win the first round,” she said. “Last year we made the finals, and this year we won it. I think it’s a change in, not expectations, but a change in our goals really. We are more confident in what we can achieve, and we aim higher now.”

Nevertheless, Murray says that the Cats’ status as the top team in the nation has not distracted them from the team’s ultimate goal – an NCAA championship. NU’s early exit at the tournament last May has provided the Cats with a constant reminder to vigilantly keep their eyes on the prize.

“After last year, we were ranked number one, and it didn’t work out for us in the end,” Murray said. “We definitely keep that in our minds and know that we have a lot of work to do. The number-one ranking doesn’t mean so much. We just keep looking toward May. That’s our main goal.”

NU will continue its march to the 2009 NCAA tournament with a pair of home matches this weekend. The Cats will host No. 6 Duke on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Combe Tennis Center. Another ACC foe, No. 12 North Carolina, will visit Evanston for a noon match on Sunday.

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