The maturation of Kyle McMorrow

UW junior Kyle McMorrow recently became just the third Husky to ever earn all-conference first-team honors and is one of four Huskies to ever crack the ITA top 10. Photo by Sang Cho

This wasn’t something Kyle McMorrow planned.

When he started playing tennis after moving from Tenino, Wash., to Ojai, Calif., about 10 years ago, the UW junior never thought he would be gearing up for his second-consecutive NCAA singles championships, which start today in Athens, Ga., where McMorrow will play Georgia’s Sadio Doumbia at 11 a.m. PST. He didn’t think he was going to be on the cusp of All-American honors. Nor did he think he would be named to one, let alone two, all-conference first teams.

Instead, McMorrow started small.

“I’d say my ultimate goal was to get a college scholarship,” the 23rd-ranked McMorrow said. “I accomplished that my junior year of high school, so I’ve already done better than what I had hoped for at a young age.”

But his dreams never stopped growing. And McMorrow — as a tennis player and as a person — hasn’t either.

McMorrow allows a fleeting smile to cross his face as he sits on a bench inside Nordstrom Tennis Center. He rubs his forehead as he remembers where he started.

“My dad was a basketball player, and he always tells stories of when I was a little kid,” McMorrow said. “We’d always play one-on-one, and he wouldn’t let me win. He’d let me be close, but he’d never let me win, and I would refuse to leave the court until I won. And my mom would yell at my dad, ‘Just let him win! We’re never going to be able to go home!’”

As a child, McMorrow was everything but a tennis player. He played football, soccer, basketball, and baseball before settling on tennis at 13 years old.

But no matter the arena, McMorrow’s competitive fire always burned — sometimes too fiercely. McMorrow admits that his emotions often got the best of him in his early years on the tennis court. He boiled over at inopportune situations. He lost big points, and he let matches slip away.

There were times when tending the competitive fire almost got too tiring.

“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs mentally and sometimes questioned if this is really what I want to be doing with my life,” he said. “It’s a huge dedication; it’s really the driving force in my life. It’s what I dedicate the most time to and really what I’ve dedicated my life to for the last nine years.”

But when he asked himself whether tennis was still the right path for him, there was one thing that always helped him answer yes.

Despite being a self-described introvert, McMorrow speaks in a self-assured and deliberate manner about his team, his goals, and his tennis. But UW head coach Matt Anger remembers a time when McMorrow wasn’t so keen on talking about his game.

“He’s grown a lot,” Anger said. “He’s getting better at looking back on matches afterwards, just being able to communicate better. I think maybe when he first started out, it was basically, ‘I won, I feel good; I lost, I feel bad.’ Now he’s way more specific.”

His maturation not only allowed McMorrow to develop a deeper understanding of his sport, but was also the driving force that brought him back to tennis every time his competitive fire began to dwindle.

“I’ve had a lot of internal conversations with myself and just realized that I am very blessed,” McMorrow said. “You’re going to have a lot of ups and downs as a tennis player. I’ve learned to not fight it as much, kind of learn to accept those ups and downs and learned to deal with them in a more mature way.”

Although he acknowledges that taking losses is inevitable in tennis, McMorrow is quick to admit that the little kid who let his emotions run awry and never wanted to leave the basketball court never went away. But everyone can see that the kid isn’t so little anymore.

“He’s not like other guys when they get frustrated and their entire mentality or desire goes downhill,” Anger said. “He doesn’t go downhill.”

Since starting at the UW, McMorrow’s gone only uphill. He was just the third Husky ever to be named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and was even named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Northwest Regional Freshman of the Year. In his sophomore year, he became the first Husky since 2005 to compete in both the NCAA singles and doubles championships in the same season. In February he became the fourth Husky to crack the top 10 when he rose to a career-high No. 9 ranking and also notched his second-career Pac-12 Player of the Week award. And just for good measure, he added an all-Pac-12 first-team honor to his resume two weeks ago, becoming the third Husky to earn multiple all-conference first-team accolades.

To say that McMorrow has accomplished his dream of playing tennis in college would be an understatement. Since he first started playing tennis back in Ojai, McMorrow has grown up in more ways than one, and his dreams have grown up, too.

“My ultimate goal is to be a professional tennis player,” McMorrow said. “I’m not good enough right now, so what motivates me every day is coming out and getting better. Because if I want to accomplish my ultimate goal, then there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Reach reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @thucnhi21

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