Student to play tennis in 2012 Para-Olympics

Student to play tennis in 2012 Para-Olympics

Adrienne Burch

Mackenzie Soldan, a sophomore majoring in advertising, took home the gold medals for singles and doubles tennis at the 2011 ParaPan American games and was offered a bid to compete in the Para-Olympics in London next summer.

It was a tournament she did not expect to play in, but when Soldan received a phone call in late October telling her a girl had dropped from the roster of the games, and she discovered she was next in line to compete.

Soldan was a member of the U.S. Junior Para-Olympic tennis team until she was 18, but when she accepted a scholarship to play wheelchair basketball for the University of Alabama over a year ago, she thought her days of playing tennis were over.

“I hadn’t practiced [tennis] since April,” Soldan said. “I was focused on school and basketball; that was it.”

Despite her lack of practice and initial shock, Soldan accepted the offer and in mid-November travelled with the team to Guadalajara, Mexico to compete.

“I didn’t expect to win,” Soldan said. “I was just going to enjoy not being at school for a few weeks and take in the sunshine. But I am very competitive, and once I was out there I wanted to win.”

Soldan played her first match of the tournament against Mexico’s Claudia Taboada. It was her first match in months, and she was playing the crowd favorite.

“I was extremely nervous,” Soldan wrote in a blog post about her first match-up. “That night I probably woke up at least 10 times.”

After losing the first set of the game, Soldan fought back and defeated Taboada to advance to the next round. Soldan then fought her way through three more matches, and won them all, including a victory over the No. 2 seed.

In her last match, she was set to face her doubles teammate and tournament roommate in the finals, top-ranked Emmy Kaiser. Soldan said that it was difficult playing someone she was so close to, but her competitiveness took over in the end and Soldan won the match.

Those victories gave her the gold medals for singles and doubles tennis at the games as well as a bid to compete in the Para-Olympics in London next summer.

“I had a tryout for the basketball team this spring,” Soldan said. “I was planning on trying to play basketball in 2012. However, winning this tournament changed everything.”

Soldan decided last week that she will accept the bid to play tennis at the 2012 games, and she said she feels it is what she was meant to do all along.

“Basketball was my first love, but right now I would say that both sports are about even,” Soldan said.

She said that the competition would be more difficult in 2012 because most of the top 20 players worldwide would be competing. Only two of the top 20 were present at the tournament in Mexico.

Soldan said she knows she has to focus on basketball throughout the winter. The UA women’s wheelchair basketball team is coming off a national championship win this past season, and Soldan will be an essential part of their pursuit to win again.

“It is going to be tough to get any [tennis] training in,” Soldan said. “One weekend we will be in Wisconsin, then in Tennessee, but when basketball season ends in March, tennis will become my focus.”