For Stanford tennis program, it's a happy Mother's Day


By Brian Risso

Stanford Sports Information

For Stanford head coach Lele Forood, managing the personalities of three tennis-playing sisters has been an 11-year experiment, starting with Erin Burdette as a freshman in 2001 to youngest sister Mallory's current sophomore campaign. Middle sister Lindsay wrapped up her four-year career in 2010.

For mother Judy Burdette, it has been a lifelong journey. One that has been surely challenging but most definitely rewarding. Such experiences just simply come with the territory when raising a trio of daughters and four children overall (brother, Andy, is the oldest and was an all-league doubles performer at Army from 1998-2001).

Judy encouraged her children to stay active at a young age, whether it be trying different sports or getting involved in other activities. Baseball, basketball and dance eventually took a back seat to tennis.

"I was the youngest of four kids, so I was always doing what they were doing," said Mallory, Stanford's current No. 2 singles player and partner of Hilary Barte as the nation's third-ranked doubles team. "My brother played first and with four kids, it was probably easier for her to have us all play the same thing. Mom was always taking us out to the courts. I remember falling asleep under the tennis ball basket while they were hitting. As soon as I was able to pick up a tennis racket, my mom would be hitting with me."

Once Judy figured out tennis was the going to be the sport of choice, she was relentless in her efforts. Making the hour-and-a-half drive from Jackson to Atlanta every day meant returning home around midnight. The time demands and emotional commitment were huge.

"Our mom was pretty much the driving force for all of us getting into tennis," explained Mallory. "She was pushing us constantly and looking into who were the best coaches and what we all needed to do in order to improve. I guess I was lucky to be the youngest, because she had it all figured out when it got down to me."

As the talented sister trio began playing tennis, Judy's focus shifted to motivating her daughters while still providing motherly support.

"The three of us could not have been any different," said four-time All-American Lindsay, who led Stanford to an NCAA Championship in 2010 and punctuated the victory with a You-Tube-worthy tackle of younger sister Mallory. That being said, Mom applied the same approach to all of us, which was pretty tough at times. She would use one sibling's results to spur on another. So if Erin won Southerns (regional U12 tournament) when she was 11, when it was my turn she would say `You know, Erin won this when she was your age. Let's see how you do.' But it motivated us; gave us benchmarks and goals."

"If we were in a slump, she would let us know," added Mallory. "But I think that's part of the reason we are where we are today. There were definitely times where you could say we did not get along. But looking back on it now, if she didn't push me, I'm not sure I would have. Maybe I didn't necessarily realize it at the time, but I absolutely appreciate that now."

Lindsay and Mallory were also recruited by the University of Georgia, so attending college close to home would have been a perfect situation for their parents. All three girls prepped at academies, with stops at Monroe Academy in Forsyth, Ga., and Nebraska Independent Study High School in Lincoln, Neb. At the end of the day, all three felt more comfortable at Stanford. Mallory's decision to follow her sisters to The Farm meant even more long distance communication for the Burdette family.

So when Stanford captured last year's national title in Athens, the Burdettes were an obvious choice as the host family for team dinners following late-night matches.

"It was so cool to win NCAA's in front of my parents," said Mallory. "I had lived away from home for a while, between school and training. Being the youngest, I feel like she probably worried the most about how I would adjust. I know she is very proud, even though she may not let us know because she expects more."

NANCY KLAHN WATCHED from the stands above Georgia's Henry Feild Stadium as her son just made history by capturing the 2010 NCAA Singles championship.

Maybe she knew all along he could one day win it all on college tennis' biggest stage. Maybe she never dreamed it would be a possibility. But this much was sure- Nancy had played a major role in his success.

"My mom has been the catalyst behind my tennis success from day one," said Bradley Klahn, becoming Stanford's 14th collegiate singles title and first since 2000 when he defeated Louisville's Austen Childs 6-1, 6-2 in last year's NCAA singles title match. "She has made so many sacrifices for me. She was always willing to provide me with numerous opportunities and do anything she could to further my tennis experience."

Nancy, who played collegiate tennis at Iowa, would often break out the rackets on family vacations and spend time hitting with Bradley, his younger brother, Brian, and younger sister, Kathryn. However, none of the children were into the sport early on.

"She signed me up for some camps over the summer I turned 11," said Bradley. "It was a round robin league and I got one of my buddies from school to do it with me. We would go out and play, and from there, it sparked my interest to keep going. I'm sure she was thrilled I had picked up the same sport she played."

Bradley added that his mother never pushed her children into tennis, but instead the focus was about finding something enjoyable to do, working hard and staying active. Once Klahn started playing, he really enjoyed the sport's individual aspect.

Nancy was willing to provide him with lessons and identify a personal coach. In addition to putting aside her hobbies at the time, she was always willing to travel to competitions with Bradley or send him with a coach when she was busy taking care of his siblings. Through it all, she stressed working hard and more importantly, the value of an education.

"My mom helped me stay grounded and always put academics first," said Bradley. "She would help with my tennis as much as possible, but not at the expense of my academics. That attitude has kind of shaped me even now at Stanford. A lot of my friends were going the home school route, but she wanted me to maintain a high school life and have experiences like other teenagers. It helped me grow as a tennis player and also as a person."

As one would expect, Nancy monitors Bradley's progress during the season. The nation's ninth-ranked singles player and part of the country's third-ranked doubles team with fellow junior Ryan Thacher, Klahn does not slump very much. But during the few times he does, Nancy is there for support.

"As a former student-athlete, she had a lot of experience with college tennis and is able to help relay some of that to me," said Bradley, who actually preferred Nancy as his personal hitting partner during warm-ups of various tournaments growing up because of the comfort level. "She can relate to what I'm going through and is always there to settle me down. She is the first person to congratulate me when I have success and the first person to help get me back on track when I'm down. Nobody knows my game better than her, so it's easy in that respect. But I know it's nerve-racking for her to watch from the sidelines."

No doubt, it had to be nerve-racking for Nancy last year watching her son challenge for the NCAA title. And at the same time, gratifying.

TERRY BRENNAN HAS NOT coached or played in one second of Stanford's 16 NCAA championships. At the same time, it's easy to understand why her contributions to the program have been just as valuable.

The mother of associate head coach Frankie Brennan and wife of current volunteer assistant and legendary Stanford head coach Frank Brennan, Terry has fully embraced her role as the default "team mom" by building long-lasting relationships and touching the lives of countless student-athletes over the last three decades.

"It's nice to have someone like Terry around, who is going to be a great cheerleader," said husband Frank, Stanford's winningest head coach in 21 years at the helm before returning as a volunteer assistant for the 2008-09 campaign. "Then after you lose your match, she is going to come up to you that night and tell you how great you look at dinner. Ask how your mother's feeling and catch up on how things are going in school. Because there are other things besides tennis. All of a sudden, you've forgotten how bad you played that day. Which is what mothers are supposed to do."

"It's just more about her being a motherly figure out there for girls," said son Frankie, elevated to associate head coach at the start of this year and in his 16th overall season on The Farm. "All you have to do is hear her talk to them. A mom's tone is a mom's tone; it's so much different from anyone else. I know how much our players appreciate having her around."

When Frank was coaching Stanford at the the 1987 and 1988 NCAA Championships in Los Angeles, Terry and Frankie would jump in the car and make the drive to Southern California. During Frankie's college career as a two-time all-conference player for the University of Redlands, Terry would attend every match to cheer on her son.

Bottom line, Terry has sat through plenty of tennis matches. However, even the wife of a head coach is called upon for an unusual request every occasionally.

"We'd get our equipment order in from Nike, and the girls' skirts would be too long," explained Frank, who received Terry's assistance in everything from rescheduling team flights to scouting opposing players' tendencies from the stands. "So what do you do? Take them up to Redwood City to be hemmed? No way. Give them to Terry, then they are back the next day and it doesn't cost us anything."

"Here it is 30 years later and she is still doing the exact same thing for our team," added Frankie, who offered Terry his spot on Stanford's official travel party when the team toured the White House and met President Barack Obama as part of NCAA "Champion's Day" last September. "Last year, we are at NCAA's in Georgia and coming back tired from a long, late match.

Meanwhile, she's already got the food lined up and it's being delivered to the girls' room. Or she's made reservations at a restaurant and we can just roll over in our sweats. She's always right on top of everything we need."

When Frank was deciding two years ago whether to return as the team's volunteer assistant coach, Terry was all for it. Now having his father on staff and his mother in the stands, Frankie has especially enjoyed the added time spent together.

"It's cool how everything has come full circle," acknowledged Frankie. "Being a young mom, with young kids, doing this job and being there for my dad to support the team. Now Dad has come back to the team and they have come back as a couple. Plus for me, it's cool because I get to have my parents around me. It's also great for Lele (current head coach Lele Forood), because she gets to have two parents on the road too."

An avid golfer who can be found frequently taking her swings at the Stanford Golf Course, Terry possesses a bond with the student-athletes that is just as strong.

"I definitely feel like she has a connection with the team and plays a really huge role," said junior Veronica Li. "Terry is a very passionate, energetic person. She is so involved and cares so much about each one of us. There is a balance with her. She is there when you need her but she never imposes. Terry has seen a lot, so it's nice to have her perspective."

In some cases, members of the team can even see a little bit of Terry's personality in the way Frankie approaches his day-to-day coaching duties.

"Frankie is very compassionate," said senior Carolyn McVeigh, adding that Terry occasionally will have the team over for a home-cooked meal at times during the year. "I think he gets some of that from Terry, who is such a big part of his life, in addition to having a sister. So he can be sensitive at times, which is nice. But I feel like he can also relate to us during tough times because of those experiences off the court."

SO MUCH OF GREG HIRSHMAN'S approach to tennis is focused around preparation, staying mentally tough and essentially wearing down an opponent by being opportunistic. The senior has built a career on simply being willing to do whatever it takes in order to grind out a victory.

But because Greg admittedly is not blessed with the best athleticism, speed or agility of other players, there are often times in a match when his opponent gains an edge and he is forced to dig deeper for additional inspiration.

And in those cases, he doesn't have to look very far.

"One thing that's really inspired me in tennis and throughout my career is my mother," said Greg, a mainstay in the lower half of Stanford singles lineup over the last two seasons. "That's really where I get a lot of fight and determination from. She has carried me through a lot of tough matches."

Back in 1977, Greg's parents, Paul and Barbara, were riding their bicycles on the Stanford campus. Barbara was struck by a car, thrown 30 feet and landed on her head. Barbara's boyfriend at the time, Paul was a resident at Stanford School of Medicine. He administered CPR in an attempt to resuscitate her. Barbara would go on to spend the next two months in a coma.

"It makes my own fight on the tennis court really seem small compared to what she does," explained Greg.

In the three years of recovery that followed, Barbara faced daily challenges. Little things like learning how to speak, eat and drive again all became new experiences. Despite the extended time spent in a coma, Barbara battled back and was eventually fully functional. The comeback was complete.

Barbara often attends Greg's matches in person, and was able to join him on the court during Stanford's Apr. 23 victory over California. Greg was being honored in a mid-match Senior Day ceremony between doubles and singles.

"She had me and two older brothers after her accident," said Greg. "So when you see someone who spent two months in a coma overcome what she did, raise three kids and send them all off to top universities, the least I can do is fight for a few hours out on the tennis court. I give her a lot of credit for doing that. Any challenge I face is trivial compared to what she went through."

Happy Mother's Day to all!

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