Ansley Cargill left Duke after her freshmen year to pursure a professional tennis career. After mixed success on Tour, which included appearances in seven Grand Slams, Cargill is back at Duke as a student and an assistant head coach for the women's tennis team.
Ansley Cargill is a sophomore at Duke University. She has taken two semesters of classes and doesn’t have a major. Cargill, however, is 22 years old and an assistant head coach for one of the nation’s elite women’s tennis programs, and she spent the last three years battling the likes of Venus Williams and Mary Pierce. Now she is taking classes again.
“It’s strange,” she admits. “But it’s been fun.”
Cargill’s road back to Duke has been anything but typical. As a freshman in 2001 she immediately made herself known when she climbed to No. 1 in the nation, was named ACC Player and Rookie of the Year and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. She loved every minute of it.
“Being a student-athlete at Duke is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences you can have,” Cargill said. “I had a pretty successful freshman year and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
The fun was one thing, but Cargill always had an eye looking past Duke, an eye on another level. She saw college tennis as a step between high school and professional tennis.
“She knew she wanted to play professional tennis and she was willing to do everything she could possibly do to be able to achieve that,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “As a freshman she set a really good example.”
For Cargill, the road from high school to the pros turned out to be pretty short. After her freshman season, she teamed up with coach Ola Malmqvist and reached the finals in two of her first five pro tournaments. As she played in a host of Grand Slams including the 2001-03 U.S. Opens, the 2002-04 Australian Opens and Wimbledon in 2003, Cargill found out what the game’s best had to offer.
“Playing in the Grand Slams was a real highlight,” Cargill said. “It was great making it into the top 100, and doing well in doubles was a lot of fun.”
But between the majors and the highlights Cargill only had mixed success.
Losing was something new, something she expected but struggled to adjust to. After a high school career in which she blanked overmatched opponents and a college season in which she finished 45-4, Cargill’s record in professional tournaments was 106-115. Although it was good enough to keep her on tour, it was not the success she had imagined when she was the No. 1 college player in the country.
There were other things she was missing as well.
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“It gets hard when you’re in your sixth week in Asia, in the middle of China with the flu,” she said. “I enjoy having a social life not tailored only to athletes, to women on the tour. I felt like being in that environment, everyone is so competitive and so intense that it’s really hard to relax.”
Now Cargill is back at Duke, taking at least a break from the pro circuit and helping the team that helped her just three years ago. She is taking classes again, although she is not yet sure where academics will lead her.
Ansley also has more time to spend with her sister Kristin, a Duke sophomore as well and a player on the women’s tennis team.
“It’s been nothing but great so far,” Kristin said. “When she was on tour she was never around, so I think we’ve gotten closer.”
Ansley echoes those sentiments.
“I haven’t been able to spend too much time with my sister the last few years,” she said. “It’s good to be able to get to know your family, and I’m able to do that now.”
On the court, Cargill provides a professional edge to a team gunning for a national championship.
“She brings a different kind of experience,” said senior Katie Blaszak, who has been learning from Cargill. “She’s very enthusiastic, and it helps just having a female coach.”
Ansley is happy where she is now, but unlike four years ago, she is not sure where she wants to go after this season. She has academic aspirations, a promising professional tennis career and the skills for a coaching job.
“Who knows, I could go back to the pro circuit again,” she said. “I would like to be a head coach somewhere. It might be fun to work at a TV station or to write or something along those lines. I haven’t really figured it out yet.”
Like most sophomores, Cargill has left her options open.