Feb. 18, 2015
By Ben Brockman ’16
Jane Fennelly had to travel farther than most when she left home to begin her collegiate years at the University of Notre Dame.
Moving from rainy Dublin, Ireland, to the frigid winters of South Bend, Indiana, might have been a bit of a transition for the Fighting Irish women’s tennis sophomore, but Fennelly didn’t find it difficult to find a home within the Notre Dame community.
“It is a small community of people. Everyone knows everyone within Dublin. That’s what I kind of like about South Bend, that really tight-knit community,” Fennelly says. “I think Notre Dame is the perfect size for me, not too big and not too small. I feel right at home here.”
Fennelly’s first interaction with Notre Dame came when the football team visited Dublin to take on Navy in 2012. During that trip, the men’s tennis team travelled abroad, as well, to face off against the Irish National Team and the men’s team at Fennelly’s local club.
Having always had her eye on Notre Dame, Fennelly asked if she could join the team for a children’s clinic. She was able to meet with the men’s coaches and get a foot in the door with the Notre Dame tennis program.
“Luckily they had a good chance to look at me and came back to [head coach Jay Louderback] and said, ‘Please, take this girl,'” Fennelly says. “Thank God they did, or else I wouldn’t be here today.”
After visiting in February of her senior year, Fennelly had her mind set on attending Notre Dame. She says she fell in love with the campus and the team and from that point was determined to play collegiate tennis in South Bend.
Luckily for the Irish, her dream came true and she joined the Notre Dame family in 2013.
“She has fit in really well here,” Louderback says. “She is an international kid, but not really. She has been around – she has been in the States some. I feel like she has fit in really well with the kids and she gets along with everybody.”
Her first year on the team was marked by minimal action and a limited role with the Irish. Even though Fennelly started playing tennis at the age of 3 and never lost a match in high school, the competition she was facing in college was vastly superior to her previous experience in Ireland.
“It is very much a minority sport back home,” Fennelly says. “The standard over here is so good. At home I would never have been challenged until maybe the last match of a tournament or the semifinals. Here I know that every time I step onto the court it is going to be a battle – there are no easy matches in college tennis.”
Even with a higher standard to uphold, though, Fennelly is not the type of person to ever back down from the challenges ahead of her.
“I’ve always loved competition and I have learned from every match I have played in,” Fennelly says. “There was always something that had let me down in a match and I would always focus on that and get better so it wouldn’t hurt me again.”
Louderback says that this attitude has helped Fennelly to work her way into the lineup this season. He points out that she is always willing to put in the extra work in order to improve her game, and he does not imagine that this work ethic will let up any time soon.
“She has worked her way in. She has worked really hard,” Louderback says. “She does a lot of extra work, and I can’t imagine she’s going to let up. She is getting a taste of being in the lineup now, and I think she really likes it.
“Her best tennis is still down the road.”
Fennelly says that being on the outside looking in last year was tough. As someone so dedicated to tennis and competition, she was determined to find her way into the rotation this year. This meant extra individual work after practice and having a real ear for the advice her coaches provided.
“I have just kind of kept my head up and done my best at it every day because I know I have a lot to offer this team.” Fennelly says. “I know if I work my hardest I can do something for this team and be a big asset.”
Fennelly converts this work-hard attitude to her studies as well, balancing her academics with the demands of collegiate athletics.
“I didn’t want to come here to have an easy ride and I didn’t want to come here to slack off once I got in,” she says. “I am here to play tennis and I am here to take classes, so I am going to put in everything I can.”
For now, Fennelly is hoping to convert this hard work into on-the-court success this season. She thinks that there is a lot of potential for this year’s team to match or even top their Sweet 16 performance of last season.
But looking beyond her time at Notre Dame, Fennelly says that she will keep her options open. She may once again be given the opportunity to play for her country like she did this past year in the Federation Cup.
Still, she believes playing for Notre Dame can be just as gratifying for a young Irish competitor.
“One thing that is great about Notre Dame is that we are the Fighting Irish. It’s like I am playing for my country every day,” Fennelly says. “Hearing ‘Irish on three’ kind of gives me that extra push. Yeah, I am a Fighting Irish girl, I can do this.”