A Cinderella Season

McCaffrey Leads Women’s Tennis to Sun Belt Finals

Georgia Southern women’s tennis coach Sean McCaffrey has collected over 400 career victories at the collegiate level in 15 years as a coach. After all those victories, you would think he had seen it all. But at the 2019 Sun Belt championship, he saw something new.

“We were the eighth seed beating a one seed. And then the eighth seed beating the fourth seed to get to the final. That had never been heard of before. Not just in the Sun Belt, but really in any conference,” he said. “But we knew we could be there. In some ways it was motivation for us because we knew we were the underdog.”

Although the team lost in the final, placing second in the Sun Belt tournament was quite an achievement. McCaffrey came from Armstrong State in 2017. He was able to turn the Georgia Southern team around in just two years. But how did he do it? McCaffrey gives the credit to luck. But there were other elements required to produce a winning season.

“Luck is extremely important. Luck is on the side of the person who’s prepared,” said McCaffrey. “I like to call it luck. But really for us, it’s preparedness.”

McCaffrey talks about the importance of team values and goals to the team’s success. 

“Every year we come up with what our goals are. We meet regularly to see where we are. We make sure that our team values of accountability and trust and responsibility, discipline, hard work and effort — see if we’re staying within those guardrails. And if we do, we’ll be back on track.”

Last season put these goals to the test. Plagued with injuries for most of the year, McCaffrey says the team believed that if they stuck with the team values, that things would work out. And they did.

“It was a culmination of everybody believing in themselves and believing in the message and sticking to our goals that made the season a success,” said McCaffrey.

The coach praises his team for finding a way to get past obstacles. He believes it starts with the leadership of the captains, older players instilling the core values and everyone sticking to them.

“In two years people and coaches have started thinking, ‘geez, these guys have really improved in such a short time,’ and it has entirely to do with the women, and of course our support staff, helping keep the team on the right path.”

The team works hard academically too. 

“That’s another one of our core values, there needs to be an equal effort academically,” said McCaffrey.

And that effort paid off. The women earned the ITA All-Academic Team last season. 

“I can’t control if we win or lose,” said McCaffrey. “But if they’re doing everything they can to prepare and we stick together and we stay on point, then extraordinary things can happen. Which is what we proved last year. And it’s something that we have planned for this year as well.“

And what does McCaffrey think about that Cinderella season?

“People were expecting us to finish in the bottom two or three programs in the Sun Belt last season, and we made it to the conference championship,” he said. “I guess someone would look at that and say, ‘yeah sure, they had a Cinderella season.’”

Liz Walker