NCAA's are swan song for Vandy's dynamic duo

As freshmen, <b>Aleke Tsoubanos</b> and <b>Kelly Schmandt</b> got breathtakingly close to winning a national championship. Now seniors, Vandy's dynamic duo of doubles gets one more chance to bring home a team title. The Commodore women's tennis team opens NCAA Regional play Saturday at 2 p.m. vs. IUPUI at the Currey Tennis Center.

VandyMania's Whitney D. talked with Vanderbilt's top doubles team of Aleke Tsoubanos last week shortly after it was learned that third-ranked Vanderbilt would host an NCAA Regional Saturday and Sunday. The Commodores open NCAA play with IUPUI Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Brownlee O. Currey Tennis Center.

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VandyMania: How long have you been doubles partners?

Since September. It was actually kind of a fluke that we were put together.

VandyMania: What kind of a fluke?

Aleke: We were going out to All-American and Kelly had a wedding, and the only way for Kelly to get into the doubles draw was if she was able to get into qualifying. She wouldn't have been able to play the pre-qualifying, and initially we weren't paired up to play with each other, so coach figured out that the only way she could get into the qualifying would be to play us together, so Kelly went to her wedding, then we won three rounds in the qualifying, then we won the main draw, and then I think coach thought twice about separating us. (Laughter.) It's been a good year so far.

VandyMania: Is it usual at this stage of your career to just have been playing as doubles partners for this past year?

Aleke: I don't think it's that uncommon, because people graduate. Like in my case, I played with Sarah Riske for three years, and Kelly played with Jenny Miller for two years, so in some other situations, people have been paired up year after year with somebody else. Kelly and I were both coming from other partners, but at the same time, we didn't have a problem playing together.

VandyMania: What do you consider your strengths as doubles partners?

Kelly: I think we just stick with it when we aren't playing all that well. We stick with what we're doing, and eventually we break through. That's the biggest thing. I wouldn't say we're flashy or anything. We just grind. (Laughter.)

VandyMania: When you were freshmen, the team made it to the national championship match. What will it take to get back there this year?

Aleke: Just take it one match at a time.

VandyMania: You've just finished up your schoolwork. Does it help to have that behind you heading into the tournament?

Aleke: I think it's really nice to be done, because you know you've finished that part. You don't have to worry about tests, papers and exams and everything else. You've got one thing that you know you have to focus on, whereas there are some other schools that don't finish until the end of May, so they're right in the middle of it.

VandyMania: What comes after the NCAA tournament and graduation? What's next in your life?

Kelly: We're moving into a house here with a couple of our friends, and we're both planning on playing on the tour for a little while and see how that works out. We're both really excited about it.

VandyMania:When you move on to that level, how does that work?

Eleke: You start at the lowest level tournament, the ten thousands. You enter those. You might have to go through the qualifying in singles and doubles, but you start, and as you accumulate points, you work your way up to the higher levels.

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Posed photo copyright 2004 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com. On-court photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics.


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