In their own words: Laura Jackson on the joys of Tennis on Campus
You don’t expect people who get cut from the tennis team their freshman year of high school to go on to play collegiate tennis. But NCAA athletics aren’t the only way that students can represent their school and compete for trophies on the national level. Here, we highlight Laura Jackson, USTA National Tennis on Campus committee chair and a former Tennis on Campus player for the University of Arizona, and her experience with Tennis on Campus in her own words.
I was cut from the high school tennis team freshman year. I had taken a few lessons and didn't realize how competitive it would be. Luckily, I'm persistent, so I worked hard to get better, and I made the cut my sophomore year. I'm so grateful for the consistent exercise habit and friendships I formed as a member of my high school's tennis team. They are still a huge part of my life today.
As more of a recreational rather than highly-competitive player, I knew I had no shot to play in college. Especially considering I was planning to attend the University of Arizona, a 30,000 person school with world-renowned Division I NCAA sports. I would be relegated to the stands cheering on my more athletically-gifted counterparts as they got to compete with the "block A" on their chest.
I didn’t think there was a place for people like me—the less elite group of former high school tennis players—to wear their school letters on a college team until I stumbled upon the tryout flier for USTA's Tennis on Campus (TOC) program.
One of the best parts about TOC is that players get to wear the same colors and logo as the elite Division I athletes, but they have a much more flexible practice and tournament schedule to accommodate any major, job or other commitment.
TOC "A" teams, like varsity high school tennis, stack their top talent against other schools. To encourage inclusivity, most events allow multiple team entries (B, C, D, etc.), similar to tiers of junior varsity play. Team size is only limited by how many players a club can sustain with practice court availability and can vary widely by school. Many large schools have enough players to host intraclub tournaments amongst themselves!
TOC is a space for recreational collegiate players to be a part of all the endless positives found in playing a sport in a fun, competitive and co-ed team setting.
TOC was started in the early 2000s when NIRSA, the collegiate body that runs club sport programs, partnered with USTA to strengthen their tennis offerings. For regular-season play, TOC clubs organize their own self-run event schedule. For example, the Badger Classic in Madison is over Halloween weekend and hosts a 64-team draw of clubs from all over the country. Then you have the Wildcat Winter Classic in Tucson each January that might only host teams from a handful of driving distance colleges and universities. NIRSA and USTA are available to help, but the students are quite independent and put together some very impressive events!
At the end of each regular season event, schools submit results to their USTA sections, 17 geographic regions around the country that account for the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Regular-season participation, as well as being enrolled in a minimum amount of university credit hours, qualifies players to be part of the USTA-run annual Section Championships.
Depending on size, sections are given a number of bids to award at their events to the TOC National Championship. Each year in April, the USTA and NIRSA work together to put on an outstanding three-day event to crown one TOC national champion. This year in Surprise, Ariz., the University of Virginia Cavaliers won the 2023 national championship in a hard-fought battle against California Polytechnic State University, winning with a score of 22-20 total games. There were high fives and hugs, as well as a few cracked racquets and tears—all a sign of the passion the players have for their teams.
Read more at usta.com: Recapping the 2023 Tennis on Campus National Championships
Whether students are at the recreational level and looking to stay healthy, active and social, or playing at the top tier and competing at NCAA-quality levels in the hopes of bringing the national trophy back to their campus, being a part of a TOC team helps students find community through tennis within the larger university experience. If the fun isn't reason enough to join, engagement has proven to produce higher grades and graduation rates among TOC participants!
To the coaches and parents who might be reading this, take a moment to direct your high school players to USTA.com to learn more about the TOC club at their school of choice. We promise they'll thank you later.