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“I grew up in upstate New York and was a highly ranked National player all through my junior career. I was the No. 2 recruit in the country when I was 18,” McInerney said.
She went on to the University of Southern California on a tennis scholarship and won three national titles and one runner-up. McInerney was a four time All-American, and played professionally for three years post college graduation; including the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the French Open. She even achieved the status of the top 100 in the world.
In addition, she has collected six USTA national titles and was a member of the 1977-80 USTA Junior Federation Cup team. She also had the opportunity to travel alongside household names such as Lindsay Davenport, Chanda Rubin and Julie Ditty.
After her professional career, she worked as an assistant tennis coach at USC for one year before coming to the Valley of the Sun.
“Once I was done playing, I always knew I wanted to coach. I always enjoyed being a part of a team in college,” she said. “I got the job here in 1983 and been here ever since.”
McInerney’s personal success and desire for teaching the aspiring tennis stars has proven successful over her 29 years at Arizona State.
“The interaction with the young people...I do think they sort of keep me young. I love tennis and consider coaching and teaching sort of the same. Seeing them get better, and coming in as 18-year-old freshman and going out and maturing as 22-year-old women, it’s very rewarding no question about it,” she said. “Arizona State has been really good to me, and I really enjoy what I do.”
McInerney has led the Sun Devils to 18 NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances, eight quarterfinal appearances, and has made 25-consecutive postseason appearances, the longest streak in Arizona State history.
The tennis team puts in many hours of practice a week, alongside their studies and classes. And though being a student-athlete may seem stressful, McInerney believes it’s turning Sun Devils into better individuals.
“If you want to be successful in anything, you have to be well-rounded. I think tennis players are usually very good students. They’ve played a lot of individual tournaments in their junior career so they’re away from home and traveling and very good with time management,” she said. “We take the student in student-athlete very seriously.”
Success in the classroom and setting high-expectations is important to McInerney.
“One of our two time All-Americans, Jacqueline Cako, is going to graduate a year early so she can go out and play professionally before going on to medical school. You can do everything but you have to be disciplined and set some goals for yourself,” McInerney said.
Former Sun Devil tennis player Deirdre Cienk, speaks from experience when she describes McInerney’s coaching style as effective and inspirational.
“People talk about graduating from college and entering the ‘real world’. Sheila emphasized that we were in the real world in college,” Cienki said. “While we had an unbelievable support system with the athletic department at ASU, we were responsible for managing our schedules, taking the initiative to put in the time on and off the court, and be dependable to our teammates.”
Throughout her career, McInerney has learned in a lot of ways how tennis is similar to life and passes the wisdom on to her athletes. She’s been in the tennis shoes in matches, then behind the whistle as a coach, and along-side the players, serving as a mentor to her team.
“I tell my kids all the time, tennis is hard. You don’t run out of time, there’s no clock. There’s no out of bounds and you can’t take time-outs. Until that last point and you shake hands the match is not over with,” McInerney said. “In a good way it teaches you a lot, you got to be tough and disciplined and stay in the moment and that’s sort of with life. You can’t regret what’s in the past or look to the future, you just have to stay in the present and work hard and do the best you can.”
McInerney’s philosophies have stuck with Cienki, as she admits she often relates to them in her professional life. Cienki landed a job as a production assistant for ESPN, in Bristol, Conn., right out of college.
“It’s funny how often I think back to some of the phrases she used and lessons that she embodied,” Cienki said. “Many of these lessons are even more relatable being in the work place than they were on the court.”