By DAVE LINK
Catholic’s Maeve Thornton seems born to be a tennis player, and she couldn’t be happier about it.
Her parents, David and Michelle (Wilson) Thornton, met when they were playing tennis for Middle Tennessee State University.
Maeve, a junior at Catholic this fall, has been playing tennis most of her life and excels on the national tournament level. The 5Star Preps Girls Player of the Year won the Division II-AA state singles championship in May and led Catholic to the state team championship, snapping Baylor’s nine-year streak of state titles.
“I just grew up in a tennis family,” Maeve said. “When I was young, I was watching my dad. I watched tennis, and I’d say I picked up a racquet when I was really young, like 5, and I started playing competitive tournaments when I was 8 or 9.”
David Thornton is a teaching pro at Knoxville Racquet Club and works with Maeve and several other junior tournament players. He’s also Maeve’s personal coach outside of tennis at Catholic, where Rusty Morris is the head coach.
Maeve Thornton is rated a five-star recruit by TennisRecruiting.net, which listed her in early July at No. 53 in the nation among Class of 2023 players, No. 9 in the Southeast and No. 1 in Tennessee.
“She’s mechanically so sound and can do everything,” Morris said. “She can do it all. What a lot of girls aren’t ready for is she can hit heavy topspin, slices, and come to the net. She can really mix it up.”
St. Benedict graduated senior Sean Mullen got a taste of Thornton’s game in the state singles final. The Tulane signee lost to Thornton 6-4, 6-4.
Two days earlier, Thornton led the Lady Irish to the stunning 4-2 victory over Baylor in the state team final, winning her No. 1 singles match 6-2, 6-0 over Agda Laakso.
“Maeve us just very upbeat, positive, and mentally strong,” Morris said. “She’s a great leader for the team considering she’s only a sophomore. She really helped the team bond and helped the other players stay positive when they were under duress.”
Thornton has spent most of her life playing USTA tournaments, in which coaching isn’t allowed during matches.
Playing team tennis for Catholic – and being coached during matches — was something new for Thornton.
“This was my first big team experience,” she said. “It’s always been individual. I absolutely loved it. It was nice, the team environment, and getting to know your teammates and then being able to cheer each other on.
“It gave me motivation, I guess. All my teammates and I, we got so close. We basically formed like a family, and it was amazing with all that. I’d say it also gives you motivation when you’re playing out there, like I’m playing for my teammates and I’m playing for my school as well, so that was awesome. It was just very fun.”
Thornton is an only child, saying “it’s nice at times.”
She’s also been a tennis-only athlete, although she took dance lessons for a while.
Thornton said she never felt pressured to play tennis.
“I grew up into it,” she said. “I had options, like I did my dance and I could choose between tennis and dance, and I chose tennis. I just loved it once I played it, and the more I got into it, I just never wanted to be off the court.”
Now, she’s getting her wish. She plays tournament tennis year-around and trains almost every day.
“The tournaments and practice, it’s a grind,” Thornton said. “Sometimes it’s very difficult because you play so many hours every day, you travel all the time, so it’s a big grind. But you’ve just got to remember why you play and how much you love the sport, and that will make you play better as well, if you’re playing because you love it.”
She doesn’t plan to stop playing anytime soon.
Her goal is to play college tennis, like her parents did.
“I’d love to play in college, and that process is kind of starting right now,” Thornton said. “Sometimes when it’s only you out there, it’s sometimes hard to motivate yourself, but like I saw in high school tennis, I realized that’s how it’s going to be in college, and I loved it, just the team environment. I’m excited for that in college.”