State Colleges

Tenacious Sinead Lohan excels for UM tennis team

If you really want to torture Sinead Lohan, play a Spanish ballad in her presence. Do that, and the University of Miami tennis star from Ireland is likely to use one of the few Spanish phrases she has mastered:

“No me gusta.”

Everything else about her experience in Miami, though, has been to her liking. She was the ACC Freshman of the Year last season, reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA singles championships, and she is off to a great start as a sophomore.

Lohan, 20, recently made it to the final of the Riviera ITA All-American Championships at Pacific Palisades, California. She became the first UM player to reach the final of that elite event, earning an automatic trip to the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate finals Nov. 12-15 in Flushing Meadows, New York.

“This kid could be the best ever to come out of Miami,” Hurricanes coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said of Lohan. “And that’s saying something.”

It truly is a bold statement considering that the list of stars emerging from Miami’s tennis program includes Doris Hart, who was the No. 1 player in the world in 1951 and won 35 Grand Slam titles, six of them in singles.

Also on that list are Megan Bradley, who was recently named to the school’s athletic Hall of Fame after a career that saw her win the 2004 ITA indoor national championship; Audra Cohen, who won the 2007 NCAA singles championship; and Lise Gregory, a seven-time All-American (fall and spring) who won the 1986 NCAA national title in doubles.

Why has Lohan earned such high praise so quickly?

Her teammates say it’s Lohan’s “fight” and refusal to quit that makes her great.

“That’s definitely one of my strengths,” said Lohan, who started playing at age 8. “I go into every match fighting, and I’ve had a lot of good outcomes because of that, even on days I know my tennis is not there.”

Her father, Gerard, said Lohan wasn’t much for playing with dolls as a young girl, preferring to compete in track and field, tennis, soccer and hurling, an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin (think hockey on grass).

Lohan, who is 5-8, used her athletic ability to become Ireland’s No. 1 tennis player in her age group from Under-10 through Under-18. She has already represented Ireland in Fed Cup matches.

When it came down to college, Lohan, an economics major and the daughter of two high school teachers, chose Miami over Oklahoma, where the coach is Irish, and Georgia.

But, early on, she struggled mightily with Miami’s heat and humidity.

“An hour into practices, she looked like she was going to pass out,” Yaroshuk-Tews said of Lohan, who has a fair complexion. “Her cheeks were bright red. In a worried way, she would say: ‘Paige, I don’t know if I can play in this weather.’

“I was pretty hard on her. She could play a lights-out first set and then just shut down. Her fitness wasn’t where it needed to be. But she made a decision midway through her first semester to become a workhorse.”

She has strutted to victory lane ever since, leading Miami in singles wins (23-4) last spring. This fall, Lohan — who is ranked 13th nationally — has already beaten four top-30 opponents.

“She’s relentless,” said Miami senior Stephanie Wagner, an ITA All-American last season. “She’s down a set, and she still thinks she’s going to get this match. No matter how far she’s down, she never gives up, and that’s why she’s this good.”