Countdown: Norman Chooses the Dukes
by Sonny Dearth, 1 November 2016
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As she shoots for the stars, Elizabeth Norman will take aim from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
Norman, a well-traveled 5-Star recruit who lives in Marietta, Georgia, committed in July to play for James Madison University
Having applied lessons from numerous coaches, the budding astronomer will be one of the most heralded tennis recruits ever for the Dukes, who seek to challenge traditional power William & Mary for supremacy in the Colonial Athletic Association. Despite playing W&M every year, JMU only has beaten the Tribe once - in 1984.
As of Oct. 11, Norman was ranked 71st by the Tennis Recruiting Network in the class of 2017, including third in Georgia. Her commitment to JMU is the latest step in a decade-long tennis odyssey that began in the Midwest. She began playing at age 7 in Terre Haute, Indiana.
"I started by watching my parents (David and Jonie) when they played," she said. "They gave me a racket and I loved it."
Norman's father used to work for Columbia House but "lost his job when the company went out," she said. Now he works from home for Alorica, which describes itself on its website as the nation's leading provider of outsourced communication solutions.
When the family moved to Indianapolis, Norman began playing seriously.
"I trained under Jeff Smith for a long time, then I moved to Florida under Nick Saviano for a year, then back to Indiana for a year."
Even as she climbed as high as No. 40 in the national class rankings, she encountered an obstacle - one Norman said she is proud to have overcome.
"I had surgery on my right elbow - back in 2013, I believe," she said.
But she came back just fine. She also developed her skills in Sarasota, Florida, but her family moved to Georgia in April 2015. She is training at Robby Ginepri High Performance Tennis Academy
under the guidance of Jason Parker and Julius Roberts.
Meanwhile, Norman is attending Walton High School, where she added to a long tennis tradition. Walton had won a state team championship every year from 2011-2015, except 2012, but had lost numerous players from the '15 squad.
Rival schools, such as Etowah, saw Walton as vulnerable, but Norman sparked the Lady Raiders to another championship in AAAAAA. While doing so, she earned the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's High School Athlete of the Year honors.
As she pondered her college choice, Norman found herself attracted to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the academics and tennis program offered by JMU.
"When I considered JMU, I noted the campus, and they have all four seasons," she said. "I love the fall. I love the coaches and atmosphere."
Academically, Norman said she has about a 4.0 grade-point average and is eager to get started in college.
"They really have a good physics program. I want to get a Ph.D. in physics and go to more of an astronomy area. I like space."
James Bryce has been JMU's coach since the summer of 2014, when he took over from Maria Malerba - who had guided the program since its inception in the late 1970s. Bryce's wife, Erin, is also his assistant coach.
In Bryce's first season, JMU went 14-8 in 2015. The Dukes reached the semifinals of the CAA tournament, scoring a quarterfinal victory over defending champion UNC Wilmington before losing to top-seeded W&M.
In the spring of 2016, third-seeded JMU defeated No. 2 Elon
, the tournament host, 4-1 before falling 4-1 to the Tribe in the championship match. That capped an 18-7 season.
The 18 wins were the Dukes' most since they won 20 in 1989-90, before the program endured drastic scholarship reductions. Those constrictions now are gone.
The appearance in the championship clash was JMU's first since the Colonial tournament moved to a dual-match format in 1995. Norman hopes to take the Dukes up another notch and give them their first title in the CAA, whose records date to 1985.
"The team environment was really good - they're a big family," she said. "I love spending time with them. It's really amazing. The coaches are part of the family."
Norman also "very seriously" considered Purdue, in her original home state of Indiana, and Virginia Tech, visiting both.
But soon after she drove from Georgia to Harrisonburg for an unofficial visit to JMU in July, she committed to Bryce's program. Maybe someday she will call it the "Best Day Of My Life," the American Authors' song that accompanies the recruiting video she posted on YouTube and is familiar from Best Western hotel ads.
Norman said until she arrives at JMU, she plans to play national junior events, some Intercollegiate Tennis Association tournaments and International Tennis Federation $10,000 events. She'll be closely following JMU until then.
Her final words: "Go Dukes."
One Last Profile ...
Our final commitment profile in the Countdown comes tomorrow - as we get a look at Five-star senior Aleks Huryn and his commitment to head North to play for the Penn Quakers. Come back tomorrow morning for that one - and check out any of the great articles you might have missed in our Countdown to Signing Day, presented by GAMMA!
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About Sonny Dearth
Sonny Dearth is a writer and copy editor, primarily for the sports
section, at the Daily Press newspaper and
Web site in
Newport News, Va.
Dearth has more than 30 years of experience in tennis. He is a
former state high school champion who has served as a volunteer
assistant coach in Virginia, where he started for four years at
James Madison University
in the late 1980s. He has competed in a few USTA national junior and