Danielle Collins was the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country for two years running prior to stepping foot on the University of Florida campus.
But as a freshman last season, she played low in the Gator lineup, if at all.
That did not make for a happy tennis player, and at season’s end Collins elected to transfer to Virginia.
“I didn’t feel like Florida was the best fit for me with the type of coaching that was going on there,” Collins said. “I kind of felt like I needed somebody who had a more hands-on approach and would try and utilize me a little bit more.
“I also didn’t really feel like my coaches at Florida really believed in me that much.”
There seems to be plenty of belief now.
This season, Collins has played in the top half of Virginia’s lineup and has had a huge impact.
This afternoon, weather permitting, Collins and the third-seeded Cavaliers play No. 14 seed Baylor in the round of 16 in Athens, Ga. The winner takes on the Stanford-Cal winner in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Virginia coach Mark Guilbeau said that Collins’ experience at Florida — the Gators have won two of the last three NCAA titles — has been a great asset. A loquacious sort, Collins never lets her teammates rest on their laurels.
“At the beginning of the year, and with our team working really hard, she let it be known that there are other teams that are working just as hard, if not harder,” Guilbeau said. “It was good for the kids to hear that from a teammate, a peer, rather than from the coaches.”
Coming out of high school, Collins considered Virginia and Georgia before choosing Florida. The St. Petersburg. Fla., native said she was a little intimidated by UVa’s academic reputation.
“To be honest, I was concerned with my academic strength, per se, because I had never taken academics that seriously in high school,” Collins said, “so I just didn’t feel like if I came to Virginia I would be that successful, which was kind of stupid, because obviously I’m doing just fine [now].
“But sometimes when you’re in high school, you don’t really think things out that great.”
Guilbeau, who had built a relationship with Collins the first time around, was thrilled when Collins reconnected with him.
“You don’t stay in touch with them because you’re not allowed by rules,” Guilbeau said, “but we certainly followed her and she knew the genuine support that we had for her...
“She didn’t get to play very much last year at Florida. I know if I were there, I would have had her in that lineup playing. You can see what she’s done and meant to our program.”
Collins, who chose Virginia over William & Mary and Northwestern, has posted a 13-5 record at No. 2 singles and a 9-1 mark at No. 3 doubles. Last month in Cary, N.C., she was named ACC Tournament MVP as the Cavaliers won the tournament for the first time.
Playing in last weekend’s NCAA Tournament first-round match against Youngstown State, Collins could be heard screaming all the way down on Ivy Road. Collins was just trying to get herself, doubles partner Maci Epstein and all of her UVa teammates who were playing on adjacent courts at the Snyder Tennis Center fired up.
“She’s brought a ton of energy onto the court and really high spirits and is playing some unbelievable tennis,” said Virginia sophomore Julia Elbaba, the team's No. 1 singles player. “It’s amazing to have a really solid player at the top of the lineup. It’s been a great thing.”
Collins thinks she gets her intensity from her father, Walter, who has played a lot of tennis on the recreational level over the years.
Guilbeau marvels at how Collins has been able to step right into the program and become one of the team leaders.
“She’s taking care of her court, playing some great tennis and has had an impact on all five other courts,” Guilbeau said. “And what she’s done in doubles has been remarkable.”
Collins admitted that she’s playing with a bit of chip on her shoulder, as if she has something to prove to her former coaches and teammates at Florida.
“I’m kind of one of those people who when somebody makes me upset or says I can’t do something, it makes me so much more motivated to get after it even more,” she said.
During the indoor season, Collins got to face Florida. She lost in a third-set tiebreaker as Virginia fell to the Gators, 4-2.
Collins would love to get another crack at her former school in Athens. If Virginia and Florida can both win three more matches, they would meet in the finals.
“I will say that it would be really nice to get the win,” said Collins, smiling, “and just be like, ‘Ha!’”
The Collins file
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Favorite player as a kid: Martina Hingis
Favorite music: “One minute it’s Tim McGraw, the next it’s 50 Cent and Eminem.”
Favorite movies: “I’m a big Will Farrell fan.”
If you could meet one celebrity: Honey Boo Boo
Favorite sports moment: Winning the recent ACC Tournament
Favorite Charlottesville restaurant: Boylan Heights