24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Shelby Talcott

May 16, 2012

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa women’s tennis freshman Shelby Talcott wants to be among the nation’s best. After playing at the top of the lineup in her first season as a Hawkeye, she’s on her way there.

“She wants to be ranked, wants to be an All-American,” said UI head coach Katie Dougherty. “It is a tough spot to come into playing two, and she did well.”

Talcott, a native of Long Island, N.Y., won a combined 28 matches during her first season in Iowa City. She went 14-19 in singles, playing the spring at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions, and went 14-20 in doubles, competing at the one, two and three lines.

More than wins and the losses, Dougherty is impressed by Talcott’s drive to improve and succeed.

“The great thing about Shelby is her mentality,” Dougherty said. “She has a killer instinct and is unapologetic about wanting to be great. She’s clear with her goals, and moving forward, that is going to make her a great player.”

Talcott’s path to college tennis was different than most. She didn’t start playing until she was 13 years old, and that was because of a sibling rivalry.

“My brother started playing because we belonged to a club that had tennis,” said Talcott. “At the time, I was a really big horseback rider, so I started playing a little bit because of the family competition. Then I started liking it more, and I didn’t want him to be better at something than me.”

After being the team MVP and finishing her freshman season at Laurel Springs High School with an undefeated record, Talcott transitioned to online schooling, which allowed her to increase her training.

She traveled the world playing international tournaments, allowing her to make up for lost time. She won in singles and doubles at the 2009 Burger King Southern Open, playing in the G16 bracket. She was also a singles finalist at the 2010 Labor Day Championships National G18.

“It was beneficial being able to travel and train more since I started playing so late,” said Talcott. “It was kind of like playing catch-up and that helped a lot.”

As a five-start recruit by TennisRecruiting.com, ranking as the No. 35 recruit nationally, Talcott was a constant on the Iowa coaching staff’s radar.

“We had her name early on and had seen her play a couple of times,” said Dougherty. “We were very interested in her and her athleticism. We knew she was a good player that was going to develop into a great player.”

Talcott’s Iowa career got off to a solid start. She went 3-1 in her singles debut at the Gopher Invitational, which led to her being named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Sept. 11. In the spring, she won her first three singles matches before winning four matches the remainder of the season.

Her final victory of the season gave her confidence for the future, as she rallied from a set down to defeat 75th-ranked Brooke Bolender of Michigan, 4-6, 6-4, 10-4. It was her first career victory against a ranked opponent.

“I knew all season that I was right there because I had close matches with a lot of ranked girls,” said Talcott. “That win solidified the idea that I could compete with these girls, and that will be important for me going into next year.”

Talcott says her first year of collegiate tennis was a learning process, and now she has a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at this level.

“A lot of wins, especially in college tennis, come from gritting it out and playing tougher than your opponent,” she said. “You don’t necessarily have to be playing at your best to beat good opponents. It is who can stay out there longer and who is willing to work harder to get the win.”

With the departure of Sonja Molnar at the No. 1 spot in the Hawkeye lineup, Talcott is a candidate to slide into the top position next season.

“She is going to get pushed for that top spot,” said Dougherty. “We’re going to have three players that want to be there that have the ability. She has to put the work in this summer playing tournaments, and she has every intention of doing that.

“The big thing for her is just competing, getting matches in and learning how to win. Winning on a day when you don’t feel great, winning on days when you feel great, beating players that have different strengths.

“For her, it is an issue of not playing as long as everybody else and not playing tournaments for 10 years like some of these players coming in. I think she’ll make up the ground and be a great player for us.

Dougherty calls it a process in making the transition from a top junior player to a top collegiate player, but she sees Talcott making the move.

“It’s a building process for her and for every member of the team,” she said. “She knows what college tennis is all about — going to school and balancing everything. I saw great improvement from the fall to the spring, and I expect another jump going into the fall.”