Her father won a gold medal as part of the US volleyball team in 1984 and is a member of the Volleyball Hall of Fame. But Vanderbilt senior Summer Dvorak chose a different route – her passion is tennis. And lattes.
I grew up in California until I was in fifth grade; most of my sports upbringing was in Park City, Utah. It’s a ski town. I played soccer, tennis and volleyball. I moved back to California as a junior in high school because I realized tennis, and not winter sports, is what I wanted to pursue.
I grew up in a volleyball family. My dad is one of five kids, and they all played volleyball. Every time at the dinner table, the conversation is always volleyball, not tennis. We lived close to the beach when I lived in California, so I played beach volleyball with my family. I played beach volleyball in high school as a senior.
My older sister played tennis at a D-II college in Utah. I picked up tennis from her. I always was challenging her, and it got to the point where I was a very annoying younger sister nagging her all the time. I always wanted to play points. She’d just want to hit. And I would say no, let’s go to seven, or let’s play to five. I had nothing to lose being the younger sister, and she had everything to lose.
Growing up in a sports family, we were always very competitive with everything we did.
I knew Vanderbilt was a great academic school, but that’s pretty much all I knew. I didn’t know much about their athletics. I didn’t even know it was in Nashville. That was a plus when I found out, because Nashville is a great city. Then I started to realize that tennis-wise they’re one of the top teams in the country. The year before I got here, they won the national championship. Knowing the tennis was great, the academics were great, the coaches were very into development, why wouldn’t you want to come here?
Head Coach Geoff Macdonald is a calming presence on court. I’ve seen a lot of other coaches raise their voice and get mad. Coach Macdonald has never done that, and that’s something that brought me here. And the strength coach, Emil, he’s a great coach. He’s so good with the players. Those are things that are different from the other places I looked at.
The people who are attracted to this school are very driven academically and athletically. They recruit girls who love to play tennis. A lot of places will push their players to put in extra time on the court. Coach Macdonald recruits people who want to do that, versus their coaches making them.
I did an internship in private equity with a local firm last fall and really enjoyed that. I loved the process of forecasting a potential investment, how you can add value to it. I thought it was similar to the recruiting process. Coach Macdonald looks at a recruit and asks how he can make her better over four years when she gets to campus. I think it’s similar to looking at companies. You’re buying it for a certain price. How can I add value to it so that when we sell this company, it’s going to improve?
The one thing I’d tell a young tennis player is make sure you’re getting into a sport that you like. I love tennis, and I’m actually lucky. I know a lot of parents push their kids into certain sports, and tennis is one of those sports where it’s often driven by crazy tennis parents. I saw that a lot growing up. I felt terrible for the people I was playing against. They were under so much pressure from their parents, and they didn’t really get to choose the sport they were playing.
Make sure you love what you’re doing. Playing tennis in college is hard. It’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of work, and that’s coming from someone who loves the sport. So, if you don’t like it, it’s not going to be fun. Having passion for the game is No. 1.
My dad told me that volleyball was never a job for him. He played until he was maybe 30. He played professionally in Italy and it never felt like a job. So, for his three kids, he just made sure we loved whatever sport we were doing. I could have gone into whatever sport I wanted.
I went to Mallorca, Spain and trained with my mother for about a month when I was doing online school in high school. Mallorca is the island where Rafa Nadal grew up. On the weekends we drove everywhere from one side of the island to the other. It’s the beach, but it actually snowed for the first time in 70 years when we were there.
Coming to the end of my time at Vanderbilt, it’s definitely bittersweet. In May it’s completely over and college has been pretty much my life for the past few years. I’ll never be on a team again. Competition will be a lot different. Maybe I’ll play tennis in leagues, but it will never be the same as a dual match here and being with my team. The fun thing to think about is the step I can make in the real world, and what I’ve learned at Vanderbilt bridging that gap.
I’ve gotten more social in my time here. In Human and Organizational Development, we do a lot of presentations, a lot of group work. Just being around other people and being comfortable with groups and teams and working together toward a common goal. I’ve grown in that aspect.
I’m an avid coffee drinker. Nashville has great boutique coffee shops. I like Three Brothers on West End. I can study there for like six hours on weekends. I also like Fido over in Hillsboro Village. They’re close to campus, but they give you an off-campus feel. I always get a latte.
Interviewed by Andrew Maraniss