Get to Know: UNC's
Pat Mitsch | November 4, 2016
The tournament that nudged Jessie Aney to pick tennis over hockey was, as it turns out, a tournament she entered expecting to lose.
As Aney – then a 15-year old, nationally recognized prospect in both tennis and hockey from Rochester, Minn. – prepared her schedule for the summer of 2013, she noticed that the end of that year’s USTA Girls’ Clay Court National Championships would overlap with the beginning of a USA Hockey Olympic Team tryout. So she decided to enter the Girls’ 18s draw at 15, expecting to be out early enough to make it to the hockey trials.
Instead, Aney beat the No. 1 seed to reach the fourth round of the Clay Court Championships in Memphis, Tenn., that year, then won five more matches in the consolation bracket. She stayed until the end of the week.
“That was the first time I really decided on tennis,” she said. ADVERTISEMENT
Aney is now an 18-year old sophomore at the University of North Carolina and the ITA’s No. 31-ranked singles player in the nation. While she’s done playing competitive hockey, shades of her prowess on ice were on full display Thursday at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, where USTA.com caught up with her following a first-round win over Auburn’s Andie Dikosavljevic, 6-3, 6-2.
USTA.com: When did hockey come into your life, and when did tennis come into your life?
Jessie Aney: I think they both came along about when I could walk. My dad was a hockey and tennis player, and my mom was a tennis player, so I was always at the courts when they were hitting when I was growing up. The first time I think I had a racquet in my hand is when I was 3. I think I had skates on when I was 2. I just fell in love with both sports right away.
My mom was actually going to put all the girls into figure skating, and I was watching my sister figure skate, and I was like, “I don’t want to do that. I want to play hockey.” That’s how I ended up as a hockey player, and my sister actually switched then, too. We had a lot of chemistry on the ice rink. We were actually the No. 1 and 2 scorers in Minnesota when we were on the team together.
Note: Jessie's sister, Katie, is now 20, and played college hockey at Gustavus-Adolphus, in Rochester.
USTA.com: How is it that Minnesota, particularly Rochester, has produced a number of successful tennis pros?
Jessie Aney: I think Minnesotans play tennis for the enjoyment of it. We play for the right reasons, and that’s what all of our clubs support. Particularly, a lot of them have come out of Rochester, at the place that I’ve gone, the Rochester Tennis Connection: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Eric Butorac. Minnesota’s the place to be.
USTA.com: How far did you take your hockey before you decided to focus solely on tennis?
Jessie Aney: I hadn’t decided which one I would focus on until I was 15. That’s when I decided when I was going to go to college for tennis. Until then, I was doing all of the USA Hockey Olympic tryouts. The time I really decided I would focus on tennis was at the Girls’ 18s Clay Courts (see full story in intro above).
USTA.com: Did you need an experience like that in order to make a decision one way or the other?
Jessie Aney: I think I did. I think I needed something to show me which one I could really picture myself doing for the rest of my athletic career. That did it for me. Looking back now, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I loved tennis way more.” I would actually get asked these questions in interviews all the time, and I would be like, “I love them both the same.” I was forced to think about it because I was asked about it so regularly.
USTA.com: Were you always going to go to college one way or another?
Jessie Aney: I was always going to go to college, either way that I went. My parents always were big supporters for college. They said, “You at least have to go for a year and get your education, or at least try it out.” Because college tennis is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I always loved the team environment, so I wouldn’t want to miss out on that, anyway.
USTA.com: How did hockey help develop your athleticism, and has that helped with your tennis?
Jessie Aney: When I was in junior tennis, people would always say, “Wow, what do you do for off-court workouts?” And I didn’t do anything. All I did was hockey. That’s really all the cross-training that I needed because it’s so explosive, probably even more explosive than tennis, and there are so many changes in direction you have to have such good balance. I think that helped me tremendously on the court.
USTA.com: How far do you want to go with tennis?
Jessie Aney: I want to take this as far as I can. I definitely want to try life on the tour after college, but right now, our team is focused on winning an NCAA team title. UNC has never done that before in women’s tennis. I just mainly focus on getting better every day. If I get better every day, I think I have a great shot at doing something really cool with tennis.
USTA.com: Does it have an effect on you to see players who are older having their breakthroughs on the pro tours, or seeing Angelique Kerber become world No. 1 for the first time at 28?
Jessie Aney: That’s so promising to see something like that, to see someone turn their game around like Kerber did. Because she was primarily a defensive player before last year, and now she’s really started having an all-court game, at least from what I’ve watched, and that’s something super cool to see. I feel like I’m a little bit too defensive on the court, so to see that somebody’s game can keep changing and developing throughout one’s career is something that’s awesome and makes me happy that I went to college and to see what I can keep doing with my game.