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Athletics director’s daughter was ace for Emory

Mary Ellen Gordon grew up in the shadow of Emory University, where she would win eight Division III titles. EMORY UNIVERSITY PHOTO


Number of total titles, career:
8 Mary Ellen Gordon, Emory (team 2003-04, singles 2003-04, doubles 2001-02-03-04).

Number of individual titles, career:
6 Courtney Allen, Principia (singles 1984-85-87, doubles 1984-86-87); Mary Ellen Gordon, Emory (singles 2003-04, doubles 2001-02-03-04).

Number of doubles titles, career:
4 Mary Ellen Gordon, Emory, 2001-02-03-04; Gabby Devlin, Amherst, 2011-12-13-14.

NCAA women’s tennis ‘triple crown’:
1992, Shelley Keeler, Pomona-Pitzer
2003, Mary Ellen Gordon, Emory
2004, Mary Ellen Gordon, Emory

Chuck Gordon spent 13 years as director of athletics at Emory University, making a significant impact on the program. But in one sport, it was another Gordon who left behind a record-breaking legacy.

Growing up as the daughter of the AD, Mary Ellen Gordon spent a lot of time at athletics events around the Atlanta campus. She also had a busy calendar of her own with soccer, swimming and tennis – until middle school, when she began focusing exclusively on tennis.

As her game improved and college coaches came calling, it became clear she was going to stay home and become an Eagle.

“I always say my sports heroes weren’t professional athletes, but the other Emory athletes I would hear about and watch growing up,” Gordon says. “It was really special when I actually started playing there because I had been around the program for so long.”

As a freshman, she made an immediate impression as the University Athletic Association Player of the Year and teamed with Anusha Natarajan to win the 2001 NCAA Division III doubles championship.

That victory turned out to be the first of four consecutive national championships in doubles, a feat that had never been accomplished before. She won a second championship with Natarajan in 2002 and then teamed with freshman Jolyn Taylor for the next two titles, while also leading Emory to back-to-back team national championships in 2003 and 2004.

“The best moments were those team titles we won, because we could celebrate those as a whole team,” says Gordon, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Emory and is now an account director at Cardlytics, a data analytics company in Atlanta. “That’s what you work for all season are those team wins.”

The singles and doubles championship tournaments are conducted at the conclusion of the team tournament, and Gordon had to quickly refocus after those wins.

“I think that was something I had to learn how to do with singles after my first two years,” she recalls. “It’s definitely a challenge to find that motivation for singles after the team championship is over because you walk out there and look around, and a lot of your teammates aren’t there.

“My junior and senior year, I actually played my own doubles partner in the singles final,” Gordon continues. “Having someone come in who’s so talented on your own team really pushes you to be better, especially in terms of those singles championships. I probably would’ve had a much harder time if I didn’t have that push from my own teammate.”

With victories over Taylor in the singles finals in 2003 and 2004 along with her doubles and team titles, Gordon totaled an unprecedented eight career NCAA tennis championships.

Gordon finished her college career on a 50-match winning streak against Division III opponents in singles. She set school career records for singles wins (115), doubles wins (104), singles winning percentage (.891) and doubles winning percentage (.839). She is also the only woman in NCAA history to twice win the “triple crown” – team, singles and doubles championships in the same year.

“Tennis is such an individual sport ... that I really kind of thrived when I got to Emory because it was fun to play an individual sport in a team setting,” Gordon says. “I think that my game grew a lot because I wasn’t playing for just myself anymore. I was playing for my team.”

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.