By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - By the time Jaeda Daniel arrived at Auburn this semester, she was already a veteran of the Women's Tennis Association tour, having played on the pro circuit as an amateur.
"The positive is that you learn pretty quickly that it's all about hard work," says Daniel, who earned a WTA ranking of No. 615. "I think being around those people forced me to mature faster and gave me the opportunity to see that this is what I want to be doing. These are what my goals should be based on that. It ended up being a positive thing for me."
Daniel adjusted immediately to college tennis, quickly defeating four ranked opponents.
"I can't say I'm surprised, because she has that level of potential," Auburn coach Lauren Spencer said. "The biggest asset she's brought to the team is a sense of professionalism that is unmatched by any freshman I've ever had.
"She's also very, very driven. You don't think you're talking to an 18-year-old kid. You think you're talking to a 30-year-old woman."
The daughter of track athletes, Daniel grew up in suburban Philadelphia and Port Charlotte, Florida.
"I used to want to run in the Olympics," she said. "That was one of my goals, but trying to manage both at the time was really hard physically. I had to let it go, but I still run all the time when I go home."
Being fast comes in handy on the tennis court.
"Sometimes I rely on it too much, but I definitely think that speed is a strength," Daniel said.
Daniel began playing tennis as a 4-year-old. Four year later, the natural right-hander asked her dad if she could play left-handed.
"I remember hitting the first few forehands and we both kind of looked at each other like, 'that actually wasn't bad,'" she said. "Then we went with it. We put in a lot of work, but it was a long journey and it's still going.
"Lefties are not as common so you're supposed to have that advantage. That was definitely something to think about when we were going through it. For a while, I didn't understand what that meant but I do now."
A psychology major, Daniel wants to be a lawyer after playing professional tennis. From what her coach has seen so far, both goals appear to be within reach.
"Not very many people can touch her when she's on," Spencer said.
Auburn's coaching staff – Spencer and associate head coach Chris Hooshyar – played a pivotal role in Daniels' decision to choose Auburn.
"Coach [Spencer] has a personality that I've never seen in my entire life, but I love it so much," Daniel said. "Chris and I are on the same page and I had that feeling when I got here.
"When I came here and saw the team and met all the girls, I was like, 'This is a really close-knit family team where everybody seems to have their back. I definitely want to be part of that team and deal with the coaches.'
"The school, honestly, it looked like the school that I pictured in my mind. I loved everything about it. It's exactly what I was looking for."
The ultimate individual sport, college tennis gives players a chance to experience the camaraderie that comes with being part of a team, something Jaeda Daniel would have missed had she elected to turn professional after high school.
"When I finally got out there, I was like, 'Okay, this is definitely what I was hoping it was,'" she said. "I think it was a good move."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer