By Jeff Shearer
Given Pleun Burgmans' track record in doubles, there's a good chance she could randomly select a playing partner from the Rec Center courts and still be in the top 25.
"She's been ranked with every single doubles partner she's ever had. At Auburn, she's had six doubles partners and been ranked with all six of them," Auburn women's tennis coach Lauren Spencer said. "It's just a testament to how talented she is. Not everybody can be ranked with six different types. And all of them were a different style."
Burgmans, a senior two-time All-American from Netherlands, needs two more wins to become Auburn's all-time leader.
With 83 singles wins and 101 in doubles, Burgmans will attempt to break Alex Haney's record of 185 when the No. 14 Tigers host No. 51 Alabama Friday at 5 p.m. at Yarbrough Tennis Center.
"It's really big if you can get that in your career," Burgmans said. "I just try not to focus on it too much, and just win for the team. If I could get that, it would be great."
Spencer speaks with parental pride when discussing Burgmans, her first recruit at Auburn four years ago.
"I get chills thinking about it," Spencer said.
Success on the court was immediate. Burgmans was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2013.
Adjustments off the court were more challenging.
"The hard part for me was adjusting to living in another country by myself," she said. "The first semester, I was homesick. After that it was all good. I really liked it here, so I wanted to stay."
Playing at the No. 1 spot as a freshman, Burgmans was 16-3 in singles.
Then came two more major hurdles: a growth spurt, and unsolicited attention back home after her success in the states.
"You take a girl who's not really had a whole lot of spotlight in her country in juniors and you put her on this pedestal. And you put her in this spotlight, and I don't really know if she knew how to deal with it," Spencer said. "And so it was kind of a learning experience for her, because she isn't someone who really craves attention."
Burgmans did not duplicate her dominance in singles during her next two seasons, but in doubles, she and Emily Flickinger formed a formidable duo.
"In her freshman year, she went from a size 10.5 shoe to a 12, and grew probably an inch-and-a-half in height. So she was still developing physically as a player, and with that came a lot of challenges," Spencer said.
"You grow an inch-and-a-half as a tennis player, and your footwork has to be completely different," Spencer said. "She was a late bloomer, but when you see her videos and things like that, you can tell she had massive weapons. The serve was going to be a weapon, her forehand was going to be a weapon.
"I thought to myself, `If I can teach someone who's 6-foot to play doubles, then maybe we've got a shot,'" she said.
Spencer's hunch was correct. At 6-foot-1, Burgmans has reached the semifinals in doubles in every major tournament in college tennis, earning a top 5 national ranking along the way.
"I've been very proud of her," Spencer said. "She's exceeded anyone's expectations." Including her coach's.
The shy, introverted freshman from 2012 is now a team captain.
"She has grown so much on the court and off the court, and come into her own as a different type of leader." Spencer said. "She's a great example of when you don't give up, and you just stay the course. Because it hasn't always been easy."
"The three years I wasn't captain I had great captains to look up to, so I knew what was expected from me," Burgmans said. "This is a great team to lead because they do whatever you tell them to do. On the court, they work hard, so it's been great."
Demonstrating a team-first mentality, Burgmans willingly dropped to No. 3 in Auburn's singles lineup.
"A girl who played three years at No. 1 is now playing 3, and loving it. She doesn't care," Spencer said. "She would rather win for her team than have some sort of spotlight on her."
In two months, Burgmans will return to Netherlands and continue her education, focusing on nutrition, after studying Fitness, Conditioning and Performance at Auburn.
Her tennis pursuits will be strictly recreational.
"I want to play league back home, but I don't want to play on the tour," Burgmans said.
If Spencer has anything to say about it, those plans will change.
"I think if she wants to continue to play tennis after college, especially in doubles, it would be a shame if she stopped playing," Spencer said. "Because I do think that she would be a very good doubles player on the tour. I think she'd be very successful."
Getting Burgmans to change her mind about a pro career won't be easy.
This is someone strong-willed enough to spend four years in the South and never taste sweet tea.
"I think if I drink it, I'm going to get addicted," Burgmans said. "And I don't want that to happen."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer