May 21, 2013
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 6, 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 2012-13 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 — Ruth Seaborne dreams of returning to Wimbledon, and she believes the University of Iowa women’s tennis program will get her there.
That wasn’t always the case.
Tennis wasn’t even on her radar until she was 11 years old, and it was by chance that she was introduced to the sport.
“I was a soccer player,” said Seaborne, a native of London, England. “I was at one of my friend’s house and they forgot they had a tennis lesson, so I had to go with them. In order for me to play, I had to become a member. I ended up quitting soccer, and I have been playing (tennis) ever since.”
Seaborne went all in with the sport.
By age 16, she advanced to the finals of singles in Nottingham ITF and was crowned champion in doubles play. She won the Edinburgh ITF Championship and captured the doubles title at the 2010 British Junior National Championship, and competed at the Junior Wimbledon Championship in 2010.
After graduating from Cheam High School a year early, Seaborne was ready to turn professional, but her coach, Sarah Borwell, opened her eyes to the collegiate route.
“I wasn’t even thinking about (going to college),” said Seaborne. “She changed my mind on things and showed me college was a positive step to take in my career.
“She stressed the opportunities there are in college and how great it was to be a part of a team. All the benefits like getting a free education on a scholarship and not missing out on those crucial four years, which I wouldn’t have had if I was going straight into playing tennis.”
Seaborne wound up at Florida State University, where she was thrust into the lineup as a true freshman. She finished her initial season with a 17-8 singles record, which included an eight-match winning streak to close the season.
Following the strong finish, Seaborne earned a wild card spot in the qualifying rounds at the Junior Championships at Wimbledon.
“I had a good run at the end of the season, so the national association gave me a shot into qualifying,” she said. “I beat a couple of girls who are in college right now. One girl is ranked in the top-10 (Lauren Herring of Georgia), so that was a great win. In the first round, I beat another girl from America.”
After earning a preseason ranking of No. 99 leading into the fall of her sophomore season, Seaborne came down with mononucleosis, which delayed the start of her season. Playing anywhere from No. 1 through No. 5 in the Seminole lineup in the spring, Seaborne finished with an 11-11 record, and she started thinking about change.
“I loved it (at Florida State), but the coaches at Iowa, I felt would be a better fit for my game,” said Seaborne. “We have a new coach, Courtney (Nagle), who I had a couple of doubles sessions with and instantly, I thought she was great.
“Katie (Dougherty) is one of the best coaches I have had. That has helped me, and I have improved so much since I have been here. It couldn’t have been a better move.”
UI head coach Katie Dougherty first saw Seaborne play at the Junior Wimbledon, and Dougherty felt Seaborne’s style of play would be a great fit for the Hawkeye program.
“She is playing indoors, which is great for her game with the big serve,” said Dougherty. “Her game has a ton of room to improve, which is unbelievable at this stage in the game that she can get that much better in singles and doubles.”
Following the graduation of Sonja Molnar, one of the best players in UI history, Seaborne stepped into the top of the lineup in both singles and doubles. She finished 13-8 in singles and 16-7 in doubles en route to being named a first-team All-Big Ten selection. She climbed as high as 34th in the ITA doubles rankings and 75th in singles.
“We knew coming in that Ruth was something special,” said Dougherty. “Being All-Big Ten, leading our team, and being ranked in singles and doubles, it’s more than we could ask for.”
Seaborne’s first Hawkeye campaign was one with peaks and valleys. She won five-straight singles matches to open the spring, before losing three, winning four, losing three, winning one, losing two and finishing with a three-match winning streak.
Among the victories was a straight-set triumph over Ohio State’s Kelsey Dieters that helped propel the Hawkeyes to a 4-2 victory over the Buckeyes in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa then put a scare in top-seeded Michigan in the semifinals before falling 4-3.
“We had some good (team) wins and some disappointing losses,” said Seaborne, who led Iowa to a 10-13 overall record. “We lost to Ohio State in the regular season, 6-1, and we knew in the Big Tens we had to step up our game. We had done it at times during the season, but it wasn’t a consistent thing.
“Next year, we’re going to have to say this is how we have to be day-in-and-day-out. If we can do that, we’re going to be very successful.”
Individually, Dougherty says Seaborne needs to work on her consistency to take the next step as a player.
“The big thing for Ruth next season is week-in and week-out being able to compete the way she can,” said Dougherty. “She had a couple of valleys, which is probably why she isn’t in the (NCAA) singles tournament (this season). If we clean that up, there isn’t any reason why she isn’t top 25.
“Ruth and Movren (McCulloch) in doubles had a top-10 win this year and a couple of near misses, and they’re in the NCAAs as well. We can’t hit any of those valleys like we did this year, and the sky is the limit.”
After playing in the All-American Tournament and winning a qualifying match during her junior season, Seaborne has a goal to advance in the main draw in 2013. But her focus is the NCAAs.
“Next year, for the team and me, making the NCAAs is a big goal of ours,” she said.
This summer, Seaborne will compete in a pair of lower-level futures tournaments in Hilton Head, S.C., and Buffalo, N.Y., while spending the summer training in Iowa City.
Through it all, Seaborne’s experience at Junior Wimbledon stays with her because one day, she has aspirations of returning home to compete on the grand stage.
“I would love to experience that moment again and again,” said Seaborne. “That moment was phenomenal. Playing in front of the home crowd… I have never had that feeling or experience before of everyone wanting you to win and random people yelling ‘come on Ruth.’ It was pretty awesome.”