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February 3, 2016 05:55 PM

Toby Smith learns that Amy Sargeant is not a UNM tennis player.  

AmyHeadShotAmy Sargeant stands 5-foot-3 inches, is slight of build, small of voice and young of face. She could easily pass as a Lobo player, which this writer assumed she was upon first glimpse. Instead, she is the assistant coach of the Lobo women’s team. She is 26 years old and has been playing competitively since the age of 9.  
A native of Birmingham, England, Sargeant came to UNM last fall, following a fine playing career at Florida State University. Before and after her time at FSU, she spent a total of 18 months on the ITF circuit as a professional who did not like to lose.

How did you happen to wind up at New Mexico?

In August 2013, I played the U.S. Open national qualifier as the winner from the Florida region.  In the last round, at New Haven, Connecticut, I played Kelcy McKenna, who had won the Southwest regional.  Kelcy beat me in three tough sets. What I remember most was that Kelcy never got down on herself as she played. Last year Jennifer Hyde, my coach at FSU, told me that the UNM coach (Erica Jasper) had left and that Kelcy McKenna, who had been her assistant, was promoted and she might need an assistant. I didn’t have a campus interview, but we spoke on the phone many times.

Did Kelcy remember playing you in the U.S. Open Nationals?

Oh, yes. She often relives her hard-fought victory. [Laughs.]

Growing up in Birmingham is not exactly like growing up in, say, Palm Springs, is it?

Not at all. Birmingham is a blue-collar city.  It’s where the industrial revolution started.

So how did you discover tennis there?

My dad had played some tennis when he was young. He kind of pushed me toward tennis. My parents helped me by sending me to the Tipton Sports Academy, not too far from Birmingham. It has indoor and outdoor tennis courts. Ron Allan was my coach there for 11 years.  

Were you ever called “Sarge?

I was as a young girl. But now that I’m a grown-up, I’m called “Coach Amy.”

You hit a one-handed backhand, which you rarely see among young women these days. How did that come about?

As a girl, I really liked Justine Henin’s backhand. Henin is short, like me, about 5-feet-4.  She hit her one-handed backhand with her arm close to her body.  I‘m more comfortable swinging my arms out when I hit a one-hander.  

If you grow up in England, you must like soccer.  Did you play?

I played a lot as an under-12.  I played semi-pro soccer, left-mid—until was 14.  I love the competition of tennis, but I love soccer, too. You can’t do both, though.

You turned professional after high school. How did that work out?

I beat some good players, Naomi Brody, was one.  I had some good wins on tour. But the tour is so hard.  It’s so tough to make it through three rounds of qualies in a $10,000 tournament. My parents couldn’t really help me financially. We’re a working-class family. I have a brother and a sister. My mother’s a hairdresser and my father is a plumber.  

Amy_Sargeant_4-14-13_Ross_Obley_(2)So what caused you to come to the U.S.?

I wanted to please my dad. He wanted me to keep playing tennis, but he couldn’t support me. On tour, I met Nicola Slater, who is from Scotland.  She had played for Florida State and she got me interested in going there.

Had you ever been in the U.S.?

I’d been to Florida, to Miami. I played the Orange Bowl several times, as a junior.

How did you do in Tallahassee?

I played 3 or 4 on the women’s team. I think I could have been No. 1 or 2 but I had two surgeries on my left hip while there.  My highest ranking in college singles was 89.  That was the second highest ever for Florida State women.

But you finished, didn’t you?

Yes, I graduated with a B.S. in sport management. I was a good student. I had 3.5 GPA and made the president’s list and the dean’s list.

After graduation from Florida State, what did you do?

I went back to the professional circuit for a bit. That was difficult because I developed a stress fracture in the small of my back.  I decided to return to Florida where I became a volunteer assistant on the FSU women’s team. While doing that, I began to work on an M.A. in sport management, which I received.    

What do you expect of college players?

I want them to enjoy themselves, but to play hard. I tell them when you compete, play like it’s your last match.

What do you like best about your job?

I’ve always loved the camaraderie of playing as a team.  I’m trying to get the women here to have that. College tennis is all about staying healthy and staying focused. It’s all up here. [Taps the side of her with one finger.]. It’s about discipline, too. In the classroom and on the court. You need to learn how to build points when you play at this level. You’re not going to hit a winner from six feet behind the baseline. There are only seven women playing tennis at UNM, so I can be the eighth when we practice. I still love to play. It’s always nice for the team to play the coach and beat the coach.[Laughs.]

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