ITA All-American Senior Spotlight: Jada Hart, UCLA
Though the college tennis season was cut short, the ITA still named its All-America teams for the 2020 campaign. USTA.com caught up with some of the upperclassmen on that list for a "Senior Spotlight" series that will run through the month of May. First up is UCLA's Jada Hart.
After the NCAA season was cut short in March, ending Jada Hart's redshirt senior season, her Bruins teammates organized a Zoom session to get the nine-woman roster together and celebrate the upperclasswoman. But on what would have been senior day, Hart had a surprise in store.
"You can save your senior speeches for later," she said, "because I'm coming back."
As the Bruins' lone senior, Hart is set to return for the 2020-21 season with the entire UCLA roster intact, plus the addition of new recruits. It will be her sixth year at UCLA, and her fifth year of competition.
Hart was named to the ITA's All-America team for the shortened season, making it three straight years as an All-American for the Colton, Calif., native. An honoree for doubles in 2018 and singles in 2019, this was the first season that she was recognized on both fronts.
Here's more from Hart, who is also a two-time Master'U champion with Team USA.
USTA.com: What does it mean to you to be named an ITA All-American your senior year?
Jada Hart: It is an honor to have received All-American status during my senior year although the season was cut short. This was the best start to a season I have had throughout my four years competing at UCLA, and I was looking forward to achieving some incredible things this year. This award wouldn’t be possible without the support from my teammates and coaching staff. They push me every day to do my best, and I’m very grateful to be a part of this special program. This accolade is 100 percent a team effort, and it feels amazing to be an All-American once again. I’m also very proud of my teammates, Elysia [Bolton] and Abbey [Forbes], for receiving All-American status. They both had great seasons, and it was well deserved for them.
USTA.com: How did you find out the season was going to be cut short?
Jada Hart: I was in the middle of team practice when we found out that the Pac-12 Conference was going to suspend the rest of conference play. The vibe during practice was very weird because there were other conferences that had already suspended or canceled their seasons. So it was only a matter of time before our conference decided to announce its decision on the rest of season. We decided to end practice since everybody was in a sad mood. It started to rain soon after we heard the news, so it made the situation even more somber than it already was. A few of my teammates and I decided to go to Mary and Robbs in Westwood and order a stack of pancakes. That was the last day I saw my teammates.
USTA.com: What was your initial reaction, and how has your perspective changed since then?
Jada Hart: The day after the Pac-12 made its announcement to suspend conference play, the NCAA officially announced it was canceling the rest of the season for winter and spring sports. I was in the living room in my apartment when my teammate sent me the official announcement, and I went to my room to share it with my roommate, who is also an athlete. We both started crying in each other's arms, knowing that we were both fifth-year seniors and we wouldn't get the opportunity to finish our UCLA careers the way we wanted. After we found out the news, we decided to go to the store and buy as much junk food as possible and go to her teammate’s apartment to watch movies from the late 1990s and early 2000s.
This pandemic has really changed my perspective a lot because there is no guarantee in life. You never know what can happen at any given moment, and it’s all about living in the present. You don’t realize what is important to you until it is gone and you start having regrets about what you could have done differently throughout your life. The most important lesson I can take away from this situation is to appreciate the people in my life and the opportunities I have been given. There are people in this world who are going through a tougher time than me, and I’m very fortunate to be safe and healthy at this difficult time. It has made me realize how blessed I am to compete at an incredible institution while earning my degree, which is something I will never take for granted.
USTA.com: What moments or memories stand out from your college career?
Jada Hart: There are so many great memories I have from throughout my college career, which makes it hard to choose specific ones. Our team trips are very entertaining and always give me some of my favorite moments. My absolute favorite memory from this past season was when we beat Stanford in the semifinals of National Team Indoors in Chicago. Prior to the match, we had lost to Stanford every time we played them since I started college. It was disappointing to lose so many close matches against them. Winning that match not only clinched our spot in the final, but it fulfilled a goal that I’d wanted to achieve for a long time. A few weeks later, we beat them again on their home courts, which snapped their four-year Pac-12 winning streak. These are the matches that I will hold dear to my heart.
USTA.com: Have you decided if you will return for a fifth year of competition, given the NCAA's exception on eligibility? What went into your decision?
Jada Hart: I’m excited to say that I will be returning to UCLA for a sixth year. I told my teammates via a Zoom call on what was supposed to be Senior Day. It was great to surprise them, as they had already made plans for what they were going to do during the call. I'm very thankful for the NCAA and UCLA for giving me the opportunity to come back and finish my college career on a high note. It was a very difficult process of deciding if I was going to be returning for my sixth year. There were many factors that I had to consider while making the decision, and it was not easy. After countless discussions with my coaches, family and friends, I wanted to make the most of the opportunity that I was presented with. I love this team so much, and this was a very special group of girls that I was fortunate to play with. We had accomplished some great things this year, and it was unfortunate that our incredible season ended so abruptly under these circumstances. The best part about coming back for another season is that we're going to have the exact same team with the addition of two newcomers, which is going to make our team even stronger. We have an amazing coaching staff and support system at UCLA that take great care of us, and I’m not ready to leave that yet. We also have a great community within the athletic department, and I’m excited to be a part of it for one more year.
USTA.com: What is your school planning for graduation? Will there be a virtual event?
Jada Hart: As of March, UCLA had decided to make this year’s graduation, including the athletics ceremony, a virtual event. Since school has transitioned remotely, it was the best choice for the university to not have the ceremonies at this time. However, they are working on a way to have in-person ceremonies when it’s safe, which I’m excited about. The athletic department is looking to have a ceremony for the athletes sometime in the next year, as well. That was the ceremony I was looking forward to most because they recognize all the athletes and it is a very monumental moment for us to celebrate all of our hard work and dedication throughout our four or five years. In the meantime, I’m going to have a little ceremony of my own with some family and friends until we can have the big one.
USTA.com: What are your post-college plans?
Jada Hart: After college, I plan to play on the professional tour for a little bit and see how it goes. I have been playing this sport for so many years, and I owe it to myself, my family and my coaches to give it a shot. They spend so much time and effort in developing my game, and I want to continue to make them proud. Once my tennis career is over, I want to start a career in sports broadcasting. I love sports so much, and I want to stay involved in the community in some way. Playing tennis has given me so many great opportunities to meet and connect with people, and I want to give back to the sport as best I can.
USTA.com: How have you been spending your time at home during this pandemic?
Jada Hart: I've been spending a lot of time with my family since I've been home. We have been on lockdown and quarantined since March, so it’s nice to be with them, as there is a lot of uncertainty going on right now. I have been working out to stay in shape and be prepared for the upcoming season. I just started studying for my GRE, and I’ve been doing my application for grad school. My dad and I have been playing a lot of board games and watching "Family Feud" every night to keep our competitive juices going. A new invention that my roommate introduced to me is Netflix Party. I have been doing that a little bit with some friends to stay connected with them and enjoy movie nights during this time.