Jacqueline Cako, a sophomore from Brier, Wash., reached the final at the 2011 ITA/Riviera All-American Championships and is No. 11 in the ITA Preseason Division I rankings. Cako was recently named one of six American collegians who will represent the United States in the sixth annual Master’U BNP Paribas, an international collegiate team competition held Dec. 8-11 in Rouen, France. She recently took time to answer some questions for USTA.com.
USTA.com: You had a very solid freshman campaign last year, and after a great run at the ITA All-American, you’ve really established yourself as one of the top college players in the nation. What kind of improvements have you made from last year to this year?
Jacqueline Cako: Last year was a tough year for me since I had mono, a concussion and a few other minor injuries, so I spent a lot of time just trying to figure my game out. For the most part, I’ve been working on taking balls earlier and playing with a more aggressive game style, which has started to pay off.
USTA.com: You played a number of tournaments on the USTA Pro Circuit this summer and fall. How difficult is balancing Pro Circuit events, college matches and school?
Jacqueline Cako: It’s always a challenge, since playing pro events means that I can potentially miss an entire week of school. The key is communication with my professors and forming an understanding with them. They all understand what my goals are and are very supportive of me, not only playing college tennis but also Pro Circuit events. As a biology major, the most difficult classes to miss are labs, but my teachers allow me to make them up the weeks I am at school, which is really nice of them. There are weeks that I have had five or six exams back to back, which was overwhelming, but overall I manage to keep up with all my assignments and classes by staying disciplined.
USTA.com: Your coach, Sheila McInerney, is one of the most successful coaches in college tennis. What have you learned from her since coming to ASU?
Jacqueline Cako: One of the things I’ve learned from her has been to utilize all the resources available to me. ASU has lots of great resources, such as trainers, doctors, nutritionists, psychologists and, of course, the coaches. It’s great to have access to so many people without having to leave campus. Sheila is always encouraging me to use all the resources in order to make the best of my college experience and to continue to develop as a player. On that note, there is one resource I will never take advantage of, which is the ice bath, no matter how good everyone claims it to be. I’m definitely voting to turn that into a hot tub!
USTA.com: What are your goals for yourself and for your team this season?
Jacqueline Cako: This year I’m actually taking a new approach in regard to my goals. The only goals I’m setting for myself are to play every match with the aggressive mindset I want and to have fun playing. If I set a timeframe for my goals, I have a tendency to get discouraged if I’m not performing up to my expectations, so this year I just want to play well. As for my team, I think we just need to stay injury free so that we’ll be able to play our best tennis.
USTA.com: There are a lot of great rivalries in the Pac-10. Which match do you look forward to the most?
Jacqueline Cako: I’m looking forward to our match against Stanford because we lost to them last year. They have a great team, and I love a good challenge.
USTA.com: You were one of the top recruits in the class of 2009 and took a year off to play pro events as an amateur before entering school in 2010. Tell us a little about your recruiting experience, your decision to go to school and why you chose Arizona State.
Jacqueline Cako: When I originally started looking at schools, I had no clue where I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to get out of the Pacific Northwest. I was never one of those kids who had a dream school picked out, since I always had my heart set on pro tennis. Even when I decided on ASU, I still wanted to play pro tennis instead, which is why I took a year off after high school. However, an education is very important, so I did talk to a lot of different schools and got a feel for the coaches at the super national events during the summer. During those events, I would ask all of the coaches three main questions, which were: 1) Would you be willing to let me play some pro tournaments during the school year? 2) Do you have a good pre-med program? And 3) Would I be able to transfer the college credit I accumulated during high school? At the time, my friend, Kelcy McKenna, was playing for ASU, so she had me start talking to Sheila, who told me that we could definitely work everything out. ASU ended up being a good fit because they have the best honors college in the nation, the school would pay for my pro tournaments in the fall, and most of my college credit would transfer, making it possible to graduate in two-and-a-half years. In addition, I really liked the fact that the weather would be beautiful almost every day of the year.
USTA.com: What’s the best thing about ASU and being a Sun Devil?
Jacqueline Cako: I think one of the best parts about being at ASU and being a Sun Devil would be the support system I have here. Everyone genuinely wants me and the team to do well, including the trainers, coaches, advisors and even my professors. In addition, living in the Barrett Honors College is amazing, since it’s a great community of students, the dorms are new and the food is some of the best dorm food you’ll ever come across.
USTA.com: What advice do you have for junior tennis players who want to play in college?
Jacqueline Cako: I think it’s really important to make a list of things you want in a school and then find a school based on that. I know many people were surprised that I went to ASU, but I found that it fit my criteria the best. The coaches are great, along with the weather and the entire set up, so in the end that’s all that matters. I know it’s very stressful picking a school, but I think it’s easier if you know ahead of time what’s really important to you. Get out there and talk to as many schools as possible before making a firm decision, since it’s where you will spend the next four years of your life.