The University of Wisconsin campus can be a lonely place this time of year. In an annual rite of spring, the culmination of exams and last weekend's graduation ceremonies gave way to a mass exodus from downtown Madison, leaving only those who call the campus their year-round home.
The Nielsen Tennis Center, too, has been quieter than usual as well this week after the Badger women's tennis team was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament last week.
For juniors Katie McGaffigan and Lindsay Martin, though, there has been little slowing down. McGaffigan, the team's No. 1 singles player and the 73rd-ranked player in the nation, begins singles play in the women's individual NCAA Championships Monday in Athens, Ga., against No. 35 South Carolina sophomore Danielle Wiggins.
Martin will join McGaffigan for doubles play Tuesday against Clemson freshman Maria Brito and junior Julie Coin, who are ranked No. 13 nationally. Sixty-four singles and 32 doubles teams will compete in the event, hosted by the University of Georgia.
With the season complete for the rest of their teammates, McGaffigan and Martin practiced in Madison this week, along with head coach Patti Henderson and volunteer assistant coach Linde Mues, who was the Badgers' No. 1 singles player last year.
Not that the pair needs to get acquainted with one another. On the court, they played doubles together as freshmen before working with different partners last season. Off the court, they are roommates and close friends.
In doubles, McGaffigan said, "you have to get the communication down. I think that's the biggest part of it, which is pretty easy for me and Lindsay because we're pretty good friends off the court."
"We get along so well on and off the court," Martin said. "I think that really translates when we go out there. We just have fun when we play. I always thought that we were a good doubles team. I didn't know that this was going to happen out of it, but I'm excited about it. I think we kind of deserve it. We've had some success this year."
Wisconsin's No. 1 pair all season, after playing at No. 3 as freshmen, McGaffigan and Martin were 7-4 during the fall season and compiled a 16-9 record this spring. They are rated No. 42 in the nation.
"All the good parts of her game are kind of the weaker parts of my game," Martin said. "And the good parts of my game are what she considers not as strong in her game. So I think we really complement each other.
"She has a great serve and likes to rally from the baseline and I like to be up at the net and I have a decent return. It just kind of all works together."
Neither McGaffigan nor Martin, though, is familiar with what will transpire this week in Georgia. This is the first trip to the championships for either player, and the first time the Badgers have qualified a singles competitor or doubles team since 1999. Complicating matters, they have not been able to prepare for their opening round opponents, since the tournament brackets were not unveiled until Saturday afternoon and the times for the matches will not be announced until Sunday.
"I know anybody I play there is going to be really good so I know that I'm going to have a tough match no matter what," McGaffigan said of her singles preparation. Prior to leaving for Athens Friday, she played doubles with Martin each morning this week, then worked on her singles game with Mues or Henderson.
"I definitely feel we have a shot against whoever we play," Martin said. "But it's a different level than what we have played. All the top 32 teams in the whole country are there in one tournament. Just that in itself is exciting but kind of intimidating at the same time. If we just go out there and we play like we have been, I think we are going to be fine."
McGaffigan can look for pointers from her sister, Illinois senior Jenny McGaffigan, who is making her third trip to the championships. Like Katie, the elder McGaffigan will be competing in both singles (No. 38 nationally) and doubles (No. 15 along with junior Cynthya Goulet).
"My sister's been there so she tells me it's an amazing experience," Katie McGaffigan said. "I'm really excited to be in it."
The sisters have faced each other once in singles (Jenny won) and once in doubles (Katie won)—each time in a dual meet this year. They are unlikely to square off in Athens, though. In singles, they would each need to reach the quarterfinals; in doubles, the championship match.
The trip to the championships affords McGaffigan and Martin an opportunity to take a bit of the edge off the way Wisconsin's team season ended. The Badgers enjoyed a strong year, highlighted by a six-match winning streak late in the season. No. 50 Wisconsin, though, lost 4-3 to No. 24 Tennessee in the first round of NCAA Tournament May 14 to finish 13-12. McGaffigan and Martin won their doubles match that day but each lost her singles match, with Martin losing a third-set tiebreaker at No. 4, the decisive final match.
"That's hard for me personally," Martin said. "I think the team was pretty happy with the way that (the season) turned out. Our team got a long so well this year. And that makes any season so much better. But for me personally it was kind of hard to lose that last one. … We got there and we put up a fight. I guess that's all you can really hope for."