Saturday, December 16, 2017
Colleges

St. Petersburg's Danielle Collins wins NCAA tennis title

A bone fragment is nudging against the ulnar nerve in Danielle Collins' right wrist, and that medial meniscus tear requires her to wear a thick band around her left knee.

But the St. Petersburg native's concrete fortitude, initially honed by endless hours of shuffles and sprints and backhands at Isla del Sol Yacht and Country Club, still bears nary a fracture.

Fusing that steely will with a markedly improved forehand, Collins — a 20-year-old University of Virginia sophomore — won the NCAA women's singles title Monday, 6-2, 7-5 against California's Lynn Chi in Athens, Ga. Her parents, Cathy and Walter, the latter of whom served as her first coach, watched every break point and baseline winner.

Collins, who transferred after an injury-marred freshman year at Florida, became the first Cavalier women's singles champion and first to even reach the quarterfinals.

"This is definitely the icing on the cake for my tennis career," Collins, a 2012 Northeast High graduate, said by phone. She won the 2010 Class 3A state singles title in her only season of prep tennis.

"I know how much that means to my school and teammates and also my coaches. It's just such an exciting time and it just makes it more special when you're playing for a school and other people."

Virginia's No. 2 singles player most of the season, Collins (36-10), who was unseeded, defeated three seeded players in the 64-player tournament, dropping only one set in six matches. Monday, she trailed 5-3 in the second set before scoring 11 consecutive points.

"She seems to get out there and she has no fear," said Cathy Collins, who shuttled her daughter to Bradenton's IMG Academy for training as a high school junior and senior. "I don't know how she does it. It's kind of nerve-wracking for us, but she has no fear."

Danielle said her second-set comeback was ignited by a sequence of forehand winners to accompany her trademark blistering backhand, which once propelled her to the nation's No. 1 ranking in her USTA age group and a $10,000 pro tournament title as a Northeast senior.

"(Collins) played really well at the end," said Chi, also unseeded. "I mean, she hit some really nice shots. I made a few errors. I had that one game, I think, where I hit four balls in the tape or around the tape area."

Collins singled out those who helped thrust her to this apex. Among them: her parents, veteran Isla del Sol instructors Kevin Quay and Scott Dei, and the Virginia trainers who treated her throbbing limbs.

On Friday, Collins, who needed two cortisone shots this semester alone, goes in for wrist surgery.

"It's something that my parents have taught me for a long time, it's just kind of a mentality that you have to go with," she said. "Things aren't always going to go your way and you have to deal with adversity."

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