For most of the last four years, Jackie Wu has been at the top of the lineup for Vanderbilt’s women’s tennis team.
Not much else has been so consistent.
“There have been some positives and negatives along the way,” the 5-foot-5 senior said earlier this week. “But essentially, I’ve tried to adapt to any situation that has come my way.”
This season, she has had to adjust to being old, in a manner of speaking. The challenges that await in the next couple of weeks, though, are nothing new.
Wu is the lone senior on a team that earned its 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance. Vanderbilt, ranked 26th, left Wednesday for Los Angeles, where it faces San Diego (1 p.m., CDT) in its first-round regional match. If the Commodores win, they likely will play No. 5 national seed and host Southern California Saturday.
She also is in the field for the NCAA individual championships for the third time in four years. Ranked No. 37 nationally in singles, Wu will head to Athens, Ga., for that event, which opens May 23. Along with partner Lauren Mira, she is the first alternate in doubles and likely to compete for that title as well.
“Jackie has played No. 1 singles for at least part or the whole season all four years,’’ VU coach Geoff MacDonald said. “She played No. 1 some of her freshman year, then almost entirely No. 1 since then.’’ The only other player I’ve ever had do that was [three-time All-American] Julie Ditty, so that’s pretty amazing company.
“Getting to play someone ranked No. 50 almost bordered on an easy match for Jackie, comparatively speaking. Usually, she was going against someone ranked in the 20s or 30s, every match was against an exceptional player. But she persevered and has held her own.”
As a freshman, she was paired up against the defending national champion in her first NCAA tournament match. As a sophomore, she had to face the No. 1 ranked player in her opener.
“That was pretty tough,” she said. “Maybe the draw will be a little kinder to me this time. But all the players are good.”
Her father, David Wu, is from Taiwan and her mother, Jane, is from China. After the family moved to Holmdel, N.J., they discovered she had talent in the sport and entered her in some junior clinics. Later, she led her Holmdel High team to the New Jersey state championship in 2005 her sophomore year.
Wu ultimately chose Vanderbilt over Florida and North Carolina but initially was almost overlooked by MacDonald.
“I got a bad wrist injury just before my final year in juniors, so I had to sit out a year just at the time when coaches really take a look at you,” she said. “Fortunately, one of my coaches knew Geoff and suggested he take a look at me.
“I had never even heard of Vanderbilt. But when I got here, I immediately noticed the campus was so beautiful, and I liked everything about the school. It combines top great academics and athletics.”
This weekend those two things actually clash. Wu, a psychology major, will miss Vanderbilt’s graduation ceremonies on Friday because she will be with her team in Los Angeles.
Just one more thing to which she must adapt.
• Men get Notre Dame: Vanderbilt’s men’s tennis team (8-15) will travel to Columbus, Ohio to face Notre Dame, 9 a.m. Saturday in its NCAA regional opener.
The No. 39 ranked Commodores likely got into the field after a stunning 4-3 win over LSU in the SEC tournament.
“That win gave our team a huge boost of confidence,” coach Ian Duvenhage said. “If we continue down that path, we feel like we can beat Notre Dame. Certainly, it will be a huge challenge, but all of our guys are really looking forward to it.”
The winner likely will face No. 5 and host Ohio State in the regional finals. The Buckeyes are heavy favorites over East Tennessee State.