Published: Feb 12, 2013 12:00 AM
Modified: Feb 11, 2013 03:41 PM
His visit home barely lasted five hours. But Navy Midshipman Peter McDonald wasn’t really on leave.
About a dozen family members and friends showed up Saturday at Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center to see McDonald and Navy take on No. 23-ranked North Carolina in men’s tennis.
“I’ve haven’t been back for any length of time in a while, so it’s nice to be here,” McDonald said. “It was nice to see all the people from back home.”
McDonald, a four-time all-state player when he was at East Chapel Hill High School, has chosen a tougher path in NCAA competition than most college students. At the U.S. Naval Academy, athletes don’t get a lot of perks that might be taken for granted by a Kansas basketball player or someone playing football at Florida.
“Definitely, there are pros and cons about being on a sports team at Navy,” McDonald said. “The myth is that sports teams get special preferential treatment. … But there’s really a different dynamic at Navy.”
Forget perks. Middies don’t get to take anything for granted. No passes or delays on exams because of a big game. No skipping a lab because of practice.
That has done nothing to diminish McDonald’s love for Navy in his sophomore year. In fact, he considers it a real plus that being on the tennis team still allowed him the free time to join his company at the demanding end-of-the-year Sea Trials heading into his plebe summer. Most people might want to avoid a 3 a.m. reveille to begin 14 hours of grueling physical challenges, but McDonald has too much drive to miss that.
“He was one of the best I ever coached,” said East Chapel Hill tennis coach Linddsey Linker, part of the pro-McDonald entourage Saturday. “The fire and the determination and the talent, the strength are all there. But what I’ve really seen growing is him as a person. It’s really cool to see that same fire and team spirit he had at East; now you can feel it for Navy. … You hear him yelling ’Come on Navy!’ just like he used to yell ‘East Tennis!’ in high school.”
McDonald said “there are no freebies” in college tennis like he used to get occasionally in high school.
“In college tennis there’s just a consistently high level of competition,” said McDonald, who won all-conference honors his plebe year at Navy. “It’s nothing you can’t handle, honestly. The jump isn’t too huge. Maybe it would be different at a top-level program like UNC or Texas, but not really at Navy.”
McDonald, 6-3 at No. 2 singles this season, had his hands full Saturday. UNC’s Brett Clark, the 57th-ranked player in the nation, bested McDonald, 6-2, 6-2.
“McDonald really battled,” Navy coach John Officer said. “He hit his ground strokes well, but he was up against a tough opponent who showed why he is ranked so high.”
McDonald barely felt the loss. He’s too deep into the Navy life to worry.
“I tell others all the time that the people there are what’s best about Navy,” McDonald said. “They’re all so motivated, such intelligent, top-of-the-line people. You have to rise to their level, and they pull you up.”