It was always Middlebury for college tennis player

Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of Middlebury College Sports Information.
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College junior Christina Puccinelli, a captain for the Panther women’s tennis team, recently sat down with the college Sports Information Department for a question-and-answer session. The New York City native talked about why she chose to attend college in Vermont, how she balances of tennis and academics, and what is was like to face tennis legend John McEnroe on the court.
Q: You played one year of varsity tennis at Riverdale Country School before transferring to the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. While there, you won a point off the legend?
A: I did play a tiebreaker against John McEnroe! Even knowing him pretty well from the years at his academy, I was incredibly nervous to stand across the net. Despite my nerves, I managed to hit a great serve on the first point that John couldn’t return.
He complimented me, but I could tell he was furious at losing even one point (old habits die hard). He won the next seven points and loudly called game so that the rotation was over and the courts would switch. At the time, he was in his mid-50s and I was just 15. He didn’t take it easy on me.
Q: What made you decide on Middlebury?
I’ve wanted to go to Middlebury since I was in sixth grade, when my oldest sister Alyssa came here for tennis. Scattered around my house are pictures of a 12-year-old me wearing Middlebury apparel, beaming from ear to ear. The highlight of my eighth-grade year came when I received the entire Middlebury women’s tennis uniform after the team accidentally ordered a child-sized uniform!
When it came time to finally decide where I wanted to attend college, there was never really a question. Middlebury is a great school with a small-classroom environment. I have always been a much bigger nerd than I have been an athlete, so academics were the most important factor of my college decision. After hearing about my sisters’ college experiences and sitting in on classes during my visits to campus, I knew that Middlebury’s academic environment was perfect.
Q: What have been some of the biggest adjustments coming from New York City to Middlebury?
A: During the college process, I set my sights on a more rural school for two main reasons. First, I knew that I would most likely live in a city for the rest of my life, and so I wanted to use my years in college as an opportunity to explore another way of life.
Secondly, I knew that an isolated campus would generate a much more tight-knit community than one located in the heart of a city, where there are so many options for entertainment that the college itself doesn’t need to serve as the main generator of one’s social life.
The adjustment from NYC to Middlebury hasn’t actually been too drastic. Of course, I miss the endless list of restaurants within walking distance from my home, and the ability to hail a cab to take me anywhere I want to go, but I love the town of Middlebury. I appreciate that my local coffee places know my name and my favorite order, and I wouldn’t trade this for the world. Also, everyone is so friendly and that never gets old.
Q: How have you balanced your academic class load with your athletic schedule?
A: To be perfectly honest, it’s incredibly difficult to balance a demanding major like mathematics and a two-season sport like tennis. The trick that I learned from older student-athletes, and I pass on to younger teammates, is to utilize every free minute. No amount of time is too short to get started on a problem set or reading, and you’ll thank yourself for it when you get to bed half an hour earlier.
I have also found that it is easiest to focus on school when I am actually in season (which, playing tennis, is basically the entire year). Given the hours of my day blocked off for practice, I have no choice but to be productive. There are certainly sacrifices that this balance demands, but I have always understood the demands of being a student-athlete.
Q: When did tennis become a passion?
A: Both of my older sisters played tennis, so I have been on a tennis court since before I could walk. Looking up to them throughout my entire childhood, I wanted to be exactly like them, and so of course I followed their footsteps straight onto the tennis court.
While I have always loved tennis, I have also always wanted to be on a team, and so the hopes of college tennis kept me going throughout the (somewhat miserable) junior tennis circuit. I can confidently say that being on the Middlebury women’s tennis team is the happiest I have ever been playing the sport of tennis, and I am just relieved that my hard work and commitment paid off enough to get me here in the end.
Q: What have you done with your summers?
A: Going abroad to Australia for the fall of my junior year meant that last summer was only six weeks long. During that time period, I attended the Tuck Business Bridge Program, an intensive training camp teaching the basic of business fundamentals. While this experience was definitely tiring and demanding, I learned a lot of the hard skills that a liberal arts education can’t provide! This coming summer, I have an investment banking internship at Morgan Stanley, in the Financial Sponsors Group.
Q: What is your #MiddMoment?
A: My #MiddMoment happened during my first spring an hour after finishing my last final. I was on the Proctor Tennis Courts practicing for the NCAA Tournament, and it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. My whole team was thrilled at being done with finals, so everyone was smiling and laughing. In the middle of our practice, the chapel bells started playing. On the lawn, people were playing with dogs that the school had placed there to relieve stress. The campus was as beautiful as I have ever seen it, and the students as happy as they could be. It was a pretty perfect ending to my first year here.

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