Senior tennis player Lea Ma recently helped No. 3 Georgia win the 2023 SEC tournament, for the program’s ninth SEC tournament title. Ma is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation and was recently named first-team all-SEC. The Bulldogs will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament this Friday and Saturday.

Here, Ma describes her emotions as she prepares to play the final matches of her career, the team’s attitude going into the NCAA tournament and her relationship with her doubles partner, Meg Kowalski.

(This interview has been edited for clarity.)

Q: What are your emotions like going into the NCAA tournament and having it here in Athens?

A: It’s exciting, but it’s also sad. This is my last college tournament. I’m excited to play. I feel like our team can do really well this year, but it’s also like, ‘Wow, this is my last college tournament.’ I finished school. I’m just a little shook.

Q: How would you say your team has prepared for this moment?

A: We have this belief that we can beat anyone now. We did finals, the nationals; we just won SEC tournament against a team that we lost to before. Our belief is super high, and we believe that we can beat anyone.

Q: You and Meg Kowalski have shown some real chemistry in doubles. What do you think made the difference in winning that match (against Texas A&M’s Gianna Pielet and Jeanette Mireles)?

A: My sophomore year, we played the whole season together, and we’ve been together since I started school. We’ve always been super close. We live together; we get along so well, so it’s easy on the court for us to know what we’re doing. We know what we want to do. We know our goals.

Q: Being a veteran on the team, how do you think you’ve grown at UGA?

A: As a freshman, I was a bit of a troublemaker, yelling at the coaches and not getting along with everyone. But I think I’ve matured so much. I’ve loved my time here since I stepped foot on campus. The coaches have been such great role models for me, and they’ve taught me so much. I owe it all to them. They helped make me who I am today as a tennis player.

Q: Has anyone been a mentor to you specifically, or is there someone you’ve looked up to in tennis?

A: Honestly, Meg. Meg has helped me in everything so much. We’re both seniors, but I feel like she has been a great mentor for me.

Q: What’s something you’re grateful for during your time at UGA or the relationships you’ve had with your teammates?

A: I’m grateful for the coaches and all the time that they dedicate to us. They’re always available to us and my teammates. They’re always there for me.

Q: Being a student-athlete can be challenging. You’re finishing up your time here. What do you think has motivated you to get to this moment and push through the early workouts and the school grind?

A: Just wanting to be the best tennis player that I can be makes it all worth it. We worked out at 6 a.m. three times a week in the fall for three months, but seeing it pay off this season is incredible. It makes it all worth it.

Savannah Hernandez is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.