Her college tennis career may be over, but Elly McKenna continues to court success in her respective field.
The Lowell native and recent Saint Michael’s College graduate wrapped up a strong senior season, while earning her fair share of playoff awards and accolades with the Purple Knights.
McKenna, along with Winchester cross-country runner James Downs, both received the Roger F. Keleher Award in a ceremony at the Alliot Student Center on May 12. The pair have attracted the Department of Athletics’ longest-running annual award, which has been won by outstanding college-graduating college-athletes who have maintained high academic averages since 1954.
“I actually didn’t expect that,” McKenna, 22, said. “It caught me off guard, but being a student-athlete has always been a priority for me. Academics have always been a big priority for me, so to be recognized like that was super special.
A Springfield native and member of the Class of 1915, Keleher’s dedication to academic and athletic achievement was the standard by which all other student-athletes at Saint Michael were measured. The honor was the biggest among an incredible array of awards the former Lowell Catholic has received over the past few months.
A graduate in May, McKenna was among seven Purple Knights to earn an ITA Scholar-Athlete distinction, posting a minimum 3.5 grade point average during the school year. It was the third time she had won this distinction. McKenna totaled a 3.97 GPA as a double major in Media Studies, Journalism and Computation Arts and Spanish, while studying Business Administration.
Additionally, she has earned a place in three academic honor societies, including Delta Epsilon Sigma, Kappa Tau Alpha, and Phi Beta Kappa.
Each society has a special meaning for the Catholic graduate of Lowell.
“Phi Betta Kappa was really important because it’s the oldest and most prestigious academic honor society in the country,” McKenna said, noting its liberal arts and sciences component. “It’s recognized for a wide range of courses. You can have a 4.0, but if you only stayed on your specific course of study, you would not be inducted. So that was great.
“Delta Epsilon Sigma is the National Catholic School Honor Society,” she added. “It was good to be recognized, as I attended student mass each week and gave talks at milestones that were important to me. Kappa Tau Alpha is a journalism and mass communication company , which was cool because it’s my main specialty. My best friend and I were the only two graduating seniors to be inducted there. It’s the top 10 percent of seniors.
When she wasn’t reading the books in the classroom, McKenna was making her mark on the tennis court. Playing in her first full season with the Saint Michael women’s tennis team in two years, she led the Purple Knights in doubles with three wins, while maintaining a regular role in the singles roster for the first time, winning four times No. 1. 4 positions. The sophomore captain also led the team in total wins with seven. October 9.
“It was tough in a sense that it was our first season since the pandemic,” McKenna said. “I think we had a great camaraderie.”
An exciting new facet of doubles play has come from adapting to and playing with the different strengths of one’s teammates.
“It was interesting to know who I played well with,” she said. “Which side will I receive service from? Understanding all of this earlier in the season. For the rest, our doubles partners were fixed, but it was so much fun. I’m by no means happy to be done with my college career, where else am I going to play this kind of tennis again?”
Since graduating, McKenna has fueled her competitive fire by playing USTA tennis matches with Saint Michael doubles partner Abby Edelmann.
“I definitely try to keep up with the skills and practices,” she said. “But it was so great and such a great senior year.”
She leaves Saint Michaels with nothing but wonderful memories.
“The last four years have gone by so quickly,” McKenna said. “I guess with the pandemic and all, to have had what really felt like a normal, fun and competitive senior year, I couldn’t have asked for a better time. I am so grateful to all the coaches, teachers and all the wonderful people at Saint Michaels who have supported me along the way.
As for the future, McKenna’s schedule seems reserved. After a very successful spring 2021 season abroad as an English teaching assistant at the University of Seville in Spain, she is returning for another trek this fall. McKenna returns to Spain with a job as an English language and culture assistant at a primary school in Madrid. The contract runs from September to June.
The only question that remains: will she bring a tennis racket?
“My mom asked me the same question the other day,” McKenna said with a laugh. “If I can fit it in my suitcase, 100%. Otherwise, it’s something I have money for there.