Chelsea Jones was a late starter, but that didn't keep her from being a great finisher.
The former TIMES NEWS Tennis Player of the Year is winding up an incredible career at Division III Gwynedd Mercy College, where she will more than likely graduate as the school's all-time winningest tennis player.
Jones has not only experienced unmatched success individually, but she has been part of a Griffin program that has dominated the Colonial States Athletic Conference during her collegiate career.
A four-time CSAC All-Conference selection, Jones recently capped her fourth straight unbeaten season in conference play. Alternating between the No. 4 and No. 5 singles position throughout most of her career, Jones currently has a 120-19 career record, including a sparkling 31-4 mark this past season.
"Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing," said Jones about her decision to attend Gwynedd Mercy. "I love the school and the tennis program. It really has been a great fit for me."
A Tamaqua High School graduate, Jones said she had a "decent" record during her four-year high school career, but looking back said she was definitely "wet behind the ears" when it came to her tennis skills and knowledge.
"I owe a lot of my success to the coaching I got at Gwynedd," said Jones. "[Head] coach [Jim] Holt has been incredible. I didn't start playing tennis until my freshman year in high school and I never attended any camps or got private coaching like a lot players get.
"Coach Holt really helped me develop my tennis skills and improve as a player. I've learned so much during my four years playing at Gwynedd Mercy."
Jones stepped right into the starting lineup as a freshman and, after some initial doubts, eventually realized she could be successful at the collegiate level.
"I think it's natural to have some concerns about how you will stack up against the competition," said Jones. "I think that was especially true for me because I didn't have the background of a lot of the kids I was going to be playing against. But once we played a few matches I realized I was going to be alright."
Jones was more than alright and it didn't take long for the rest of the conference to take notice.
After dropping a non-conference match to open her college career, she rebounded to win her next match, and her next match, and the match after that. In all, Jones won 15 straight matches (11 singles and four doubles) before suffering another loss.
That year Jones was named the Colonial States Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year. The individual success continued during the next three years.
"I don't think there is any doubt that the key to my success was my competitiveness on the court," said Jones. "I wasn't necessarily the hardest hitter, so I would try to rely on my quickness and my intelligence to set up points.
"I pride myself on the fact that I battle for every point. I think my determination comes from the fact that I don't like losing and I think that was a big reason for my success."
Jones' 120 victories puts her within six of the school's all-time win record.
Although Gwynedd Mercy's main competition season is in the fall, the team plays several non-league matches each spring. Although the schedule is limited, Jones should play enough matches to have a shot at breaking the record.
"If you would have told me four years ago that I would have a chance to set the all-time win record at Gwynedd Mercy I would have never believed it," said Jones. "I was just hoping to make the team when I got here my freshman year. I could have never imagined this happening."
But for all the individual success Jones enjoyed, it was the team accomplishments during her career that hold the most meaning.
Gwynedd Mercy was 65-11 overall during her four-year career, including a perfect 40-0 in CSAC regular season matches. Those gaudy numbers produced NCAA Division III Tournament berths in each of Jones' first three years. That streak ended last month when the Griffins were upset in the league playoffs by Marywood College.
Despite the loss, Jones is thrilled with how her tennis career has gone.
"I've had great coaching, great teammates ... it's been a wonderful four years," said Jones. "I've loved every minute of my time as part of the tennis program."
Jones will graduate in the spring with a degree in psychology. She said she plans on attending graduate school and wouldn't mind working as an assistant tennis coach while she completes her schooling.
"Tennis has been a big part of my life, but it wouldn't have been possible without everything my mom and dad have done for me," said Jones. "Tennis isn't a cheap sport and not only have they supported me financially, but they have been there at almost all of my matches. They have travelled all over the state and even to different parts of the country to see me play and I can't express how much I appriciate that."