Note: The following appears in the Wofford gameday football program.
Just five months ago, senior Mackenzy Middlebrooks was a tennis player at Missouri, positioned as its top singles player and nationally ranked. But she wanted more.
In June, she decided to enter the transfer portal in hopes of meeting larger goals for herself. As a veteran college athlete, Middlebrooks had a different approach to her search for the right program.
“I was more skeptical the second time around. I understood the behind-the-scenes aspect of the recruiting process. I knew what to look for and I knew what I wanted in a coach and in a program.”
Within a few weeks, Middlebrooks claimed Clemson as her new home. She described her whirlwind transfer process as fairly hectic, but she felt at ease in Tigertown.
“From the moment I landed at the airport in Greenville and the moment I stepped on campus, everyone was so welcoming. My favorite thing was feeling like Clemson had such a family culture, which is really what I wanted.”
That support of a family atmosphere in athletics is something that Middlebrooks has valued since childhood. She grew up playing multiple sports alongside her three brothers, and she was surrounded by college sports throughout her life, with her aunt, uncle (former Florida State and NFL quarterback Danny Kanell), brother and cousins playing various sports at the college level.
From a young age, Middlebrooks knew that she, too, wanted to pursue an athletic career in college. At the start of high school, she moved her sole focus to tennis, which meant giving up a more traditional teenage experience. Looking back on her journey and on the constant encouragement of her family, she would not change anything.
“I say this all the time, but I could not have done any of this without my parents. Every weekend, they were driving me to tournaments and to practice in the morning. There were so many times when I would lose a tennis match in juniors and question whether it was worth it, but they supported me through it all and still do to this day.”
When she decided to transfer for her senior year of college, her parents continued to support her. They helped her talk through all of the “unknowns” of the transfer process, and Middlebrooks was empowered to make the bold decision that led her to Clemson.
In addition to Clemson’s family culture, Middlebrooks was drawn to the dedication of Tiger women’s tennis to student-athlete success in academics, athletics and personal growth. She has quickly taken note of the program’s attention to building a culture of success.
“It’s with everything, even the details…showing up on time for workouts, giving 100 percent at practice and being participatory in our mental performance and strength performance meetings. That’s ultimately what makes a team great…getting the small details.”
She attributes the program’s high standards to the examples set by the coaching staff and by the team’s upperclassmen. The team’s culture promotes individual development, and even as a program newcomer, Middlebrooks has been embraced as a leader.
“I only have one year left, but they have treated me like I’ve been here all four years.”
With three freshmen on the seven-player roster, Middlebrooks has the opportunity to apply lessons that she learned during her career at Missouri, like managing travel schedules and maintaining confidence, to help younger players during their first year.
Middlebrooks wants to make the most of her final year of college tennis, and since being at Clemson, she has not looked back.