Morton's future appears bright at Redlands
When she first stepped onto the tennis courts at the University of Redlands in California, 2011 Bexley High School graduate Maddie Morton quickly realized that she needed to raise the level of her game.
A four-time Division II state qualifier for the Lions, she struggled to keep up with many of her teammates.
"A lot of the girls were a lot stronger than I was," Morton said. "That was an adjustment. I had to get used to people hitting and serving a lot harder than I was used to."
Morton quickly adjusted, finishing her freshman season with a 26-14 overall record. She went 1-2 at first singles, 6-4 at second singles, 1-2 at third singles, 4-0 at fourth singles, 1-2 at first doubles, 5-2 at second doubles and 8-2 at third doubles.
"The college game is a big step up from high school for several reasons," Redlands coach Geoff Roche said. "The season is longer, the teams are much more competitive and the players have a lot more experience and maturity. There are really no easy matches.
"In high school, many top players are not challenged on a regular basis. When they come to our program, they find the team itself is much more competitive and they're competing for opportunities in our lineup throughout the season."
Morton didn't anticipate getting playing time at first singles as a freshman, but she believes she made the most of her opportunity after an injury sidelined the Bulldogs' top player, Jessica Ly. In her first singles debut, Morton defeated Jillian Poppe 6-4, 6-1 in a 9-0 win over Salisbury University on March 21. She then lost to Krishnaveni Subbiah 6-4, 6-1 in an 8-1 win over Occidental College on March 30 and lost to Laina Matsuda 6-3, 2-6, 10-8 in a 7-2 win over the University of La Verne on March 31.
"(Playing first singles) was a huge achievement for me," Morton said. "I showed them I was ready for anything they put in my path."
During her prep career, Morton reached the Division II state tournament three times in doubles with 2010 graduate Corinne Rauck. The pair reached a quarterfinal in 2007, placed third in 2008 and were the state runners-up in 2009, losing to DeSales' Kim My Li and My Lihn Li 6-2, 6-7 (7-9), 6-2 in the final.
As a senior, Morton reached state in singles, losing to the eventual runner-up, Millersburg West Holmes' Rachel Nelson, 6-1, 6-2 in a quarterfinal.
Morton and Rauck, who now plays for Washington University in St. Louis, had a reunion of sorts when Redlands lost to the Bears 5-4 on March 14. Morton and Shannon Cassidy lost to Rauck and Kate Klein 8-3 at second doubles.
"Maddie is a great competitor and she always gave us her best whether in our team training or match play," Roche said. "She started the season with a few flaws in her game, but she was determined to work on those areas to improve. The future is very bright for her."
Among the things Morton learned as a freshman was the importance of winning every court. Redlands lost four matches 5-4 this spring, including to Pomona-Pitzer College in a semifinal of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament on May 4. If the Bulldogs had won that match and would have defeated Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the final, they would have received an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
"In college, it's a lot more about the team than it is about you individually," Morton said. "You want to win your court for the team because that gets you a step closer to winning the match.
"There's a lot of pressure in collegiate tennis. Your teammates are all counting on you to get your point. Knowing (your teammates) are there supporting you helps you get through matches."