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Giles-Madden's Ability To Be Clutch Earned Two MVPs

The following article appeared in the Pointer View's 2009 graduation issue and was written by Eric Bartelt.

WEST POINT, N.Y. - To be described as having a lot of heart is a special thing, particularly during one of the most important days of your life—graduation day.

Many of the thoughtful words said May 23 about Sarah Giles-Madden during her bar pinning ceremony reflect back to April 20, 2008, when she had to dig down deep within herself to comeback from a one set deficit to help Army women’s tennis win its fourth consecutive Patriot League championship.

Just a week before the championship match, Giles-Madden faced the same freshman rival from Bucknell, Lauren Lucido, and was beaten by her in two sets.

Then only a week later, faced with the adversity of having her team’s championship hopes placed solely on her shoulders with the teams’ match tied at three apiece, Giles-Madden fought back from a 6-3 first set loss to take the final two sets 6-4, 6-3.

The victory earned Giles-Madden her second career PL Tournament MVP honor, the first coming in her plebe year, and cemented her legacy as a big-game player in Army women’s tennis history.

“When it comes to the big moments, you have certain players who step up and (Giles-Madden) is one of them,” Army women’s tennis head coach Paul Peck said. “She would have good seasons, but she always seemed to play her best in the tournament. She’s what we call a big game player … She’s like Michael Jordan in that her attitude was, ‘give me the rock, give me the ball when the game is on the line and I will make the shot.’”

Peck said Giles-Madden’s victory last year at the PL Tournament was something he’ll never forget. The team won its fifth consecutive PL title this year, but no matter how many titles they win it’s last year’s that is mostly etched in Peck’s mind.

“We’ve won other championships, but that’s definitely going to be the one that will always stand out,” Peck explained. “Having lost to that girl the weekend before and then being down a set, it all came down to her. (Giles-Madden) really put everything on her shoulders and carried the team at the end; it showed her grit and determination.”

Peck said at 5-foot-1, Giles-Madden played like someone who is 6-foot-3, and is a very feisty person who doesn’t take a lot of you know what from anyone. All that wrapped into a small fiery package will lead to a strong leader someday soon in the Army.

“She goes out there and says, ‘We’re out here to battle our you know what’s off until the job’s done and it’s not over until we say it’s over,’” Peck said, “and Sarah has that attitude.”

The Columbia, S.C., native went to the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in South Carolina before she arrived at the U.S. Military Academy.

The year off from school, although she did take a couple of college courses at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort, helped her concentrate on her tennis and overall workouts.

“The pressure, in a way, was off of me, so I was able to focus on what could make me a better tennis player,” Giles-Madden said. “Having the year off where I didn’t have to worry about high school or looking at other schools (she was already committed to West Point) gave me that one single focus that helped me commit my time to what I was trying to do with my career.”

Once she arrived at West Point, it impacted her, like many of the cadets who graduated with her May 23, in a way that helped her become more efficient in her daily life. “I’ve become more of a planner,” Giles-Madden said. “I was a spur of the moment type of girl and learned that procrastination is very bad for you. (West Point) made me a conscientious person and more aware of my surroundings.

“I became a, ‘This is what I need to do and I can get it done,’ person, so it helped me refocus my energy in a positive way,” she added. While ambitious, she still has her fears. The two things she credits West Point in helping her with are her fears of public speaking and heights."

While it hasn’t 100 percent taken away these fears, she is more confident now in her ability to overcome these situations.

“I’m a horrible public speaker. I get so nervous and turn beet red, but when I was a platoon leader at Beast this past summer, the experience there got me more comfortable talking in front of a small group of people,” Giles-Madden said. “When I’m an officer, I’ll have to deal with it, so that experience helped me greatly.

“I’m also scared of heights and during Buckner there’s the slide for life and they wanted me to go up a 35-foot tower and do what—I mean, no, I’m not going to slide down that wire,” she added. “They pushed me out of my comfort zone and I was able to do the slide for life. Doing the slide for life built my confidence to where if I set my mind to do something, I could do anything I wanted and that was an eye-opener in a way. I was so terrified by this one thing that doing it relieved me in such a way that it relieved me in doing everything else (that was difficult).”

The new second lieutenant, who is an officer in the quartermaster branch, took on everything that was difficult at the academy and
came away a very confident person.

The biggest confidence boost of her academy life was the Bucknell match victory, and being able to say she not only won the match for the team, but received great support from her teammates—her best friends—was the ultimate magnificent sensation.

“After I won that match, my first reaction was to go and hug Brooke (Jones) because she was with me that entire match and had seen my ups and downs throughout the match,” Giles-Madden said. “With her help, I was able to accomplish something great for the team. It was a huge relief and a great satisfaction to be able to say, ‘I won this and I helped the team win,’ and we’re going to nationals because of it. It was an unexplainable feeling.”

Giles-Madden finished her tennis career this year, winning four consecutive PL championships and going to the NCAAs four times. While her team didn’t win a set at the NCAAs, Giles-Madden did quite well during those four years including having a 6-3, 3-0 lead over California’s Cristina Visico at No. 3 singles during the 2008 NCAA Regionals before her match was stopped when Army lost its fourth match of the day to Cal.

“Being able to say that I went to nationals all four years is more memorable than saying I won a championship here or there,” Giles- Madden said. “It was great that I was able to compete at nationals while some of my friends from high school never got the chance to do that.”

While, first and foremost, she hopes that her class year left a great legacy for future classes to build on with the Army women’s tennis program, what made her time here most special were the friendships she made—especially with her classmates.

Fellow classmates—graduate mates—Nikki Flach, Jessica Shurtz, Bridie Burke and Jones were some of the most important people in her life during these past four years. “They were amazing. I’m an only child, so they were the closest thing that I had to sisters … they were a Family to me,” Giles-Madden said. “To be there through the good and bad times with them, it really made me closer to them.

“It’s more than anything I could have experienced at another college,” she added. “You do military training together, you go on trips to build team cohesion, it’s a completely different atmosphere that helps facilitate a great relationship with these girls.”

Giles-Madden will have to wait until January to go to her Basic Officer Leadership Course and then to Officer Basic Course at Fort Lee, Va., because she will be the women’s tennis’ athletic intern during the summer and fall. However, right now, she is just enjoying the moment at hand and earning the diploma and second lieutenant bars that she worked so hard to get.

“Four years of hard work and long hours and a lot of agony of getting through this place with all its mental hurdles—I won’t believe I graduated until I have the diploma in my hand and thrown my hat,”

Giles-Madden said. “I’m tired, exhilarated and I’m over-the-moon ecstatic that I’m done and that I’ve survived. Just knowing that I have all my friends there with me and knowing we survived together is the best feeling ever.”
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