Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kaitlin Ray of Little Rock Signs with Tennis Powerhouse UCLA Bruins

As an energetic youngster growing up in Little Rock, Ark., Kaitlin Ray had several sports competing for her attention. One of them was tennis. But soccer and gymnastics were a lot of fun, too.

It took a few years, but Ray became serious about tennis. When that happened, at age 11, her enormous potential in the sport began to materialize.
The blue-chip recruit, who signed a scholarship in November to play tennis this fall at UCLA, emerged as a top junior in Arkansas. However, Ray didn't want to just be the best junior player in Arkansas. Achieving that objective would require a significant change.

"Little Rock is a great place to grow up, but it's not a tennis mecca," said Ray, who began playing tennis at age 4. "It was getting hard to find top players to play against."

Ray would soon learn there was a tennis mecca that could help her become a better player - the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C. She began training at Smith Stearns in the first semester of her sophomore year in high school and has not regretted making that move.

"It's been a good decision for me," Ray said. "It was hard to leave my family and friends. (Smith Stearns) is such a positive environment and the staff is unbelievable. It's been the best two years of my life."

Under the tutelage of coaches B.J. Stearns, Billy Stearns and Jolene Watanabe, the 5-foot-5 Ray began taking her game to a higher level.

"All the coaches have been helpful, teaching me shot selection and strategy," Ray said. "They've really helped me to hit a bigger ball and you need that as you go higher."

Ray, 18, hit a lot of big balls at the recent USTA Regional Tournament Segment in January at Mobile, Ala., winning five straight matches to capture the Girls' 18 title. That championship, along with other excellent tournament results, helped Ray reach the top 25 nationally in USTA Girls' 18 singles and become a prized recruit.

Ray believes the skills she gained in soccer and gymnastics helped her on the tennis court.

"I loved both of them," Ray said. "They provided me with balance and were a good foundation. I quit gymnastics right when the routines were starting to get dangerous."

In exploring college options, Ray was faced with more choices. UCLA was on her list, as were top schools like Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Eventually, the chance to play for Stella Sampras Webster at UCLA was too good to pass up.

"When I visited UCLA, I fell in love with the coaching staff," Ray said. "Coach Sampras Webster and Rance Brown are dedicated to their program and they want you to get better in college."
Playing tennis in California won't be anything new for Ray. She has played the Easter Bowl in Palm Desert four times and the National Hard Courts in San Diego twice.

Ray plans to continue training at Smith Stearns through September, a few weeks before the start of her freshman year at UCLA. Then she will join one of the nation's best college programs for women's tennis.

By: TennisRecruiting.Net & Keith Kropp