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Alabama Named 2017 TOC Club Of The Year

2017 alabama 

By Ashley Marshall

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When Shelby Akin first stepped foot on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa four years ago, she thought she had given up hopes of playing college tennis.

Four years on, not only has she kept playing tennis, but she has led her club to the Tennis On Campus National Championship three years in a row, grown the club's membership and made a lasting impact in the Tuscaloosa community.

All of those gains paid dividends this year, with Alabama being named the USTA Tennis On Campus Club of the Year.

"It's pretty incredible, I'm pretty happy," Akin said. "I wish that I could say that all my hard work paid off, but I'm only a good leader because I have a lot of great people to lead. It's exciting and nice and definitely a cherry on top of my college tennis career.

"I've always been most proud of our team camaraderie and spirit. A lot of people play club sports and then go home to another set of friends, but I love all our members and everybody loves everybody else. It makes me happy to see freshmen coming to our club and finding their spot at the university through our team."

As an upperclassman at Randolph School in Huntsville, Ala., Akin always hoped of playing varsity tennis in college. But when Alabama offered her a scholarship to study journalism with a minor in Italian and Spanish, it was too much to turn down.

"I thought that was it for tennis," Akin said. "I looked at trying to play for a Division-II or Division-III school, but in the end, I decided to go to Alabama. They offered me close to a full ride, which was pretty hard to pass up. But I felt like I was choosing between playing tennis and going to school. I could either play sport or get a scholarship."

The club tennis team had just nine members when Akin, who was also named the USTA Southern section Tennis On Campus Leader of the Year, arrived. But the club now has 67 members – 90 attended the first practice earlier this year – split evenly between the recreational team and the travel team, which come together for volunteer projects in the neighborhood.

Junior Jared Halstrom helped start a tennis clinic for underprivileged youngsters at Oakdale Elementary School, which serves fourth- and fifth-grade children twice a week. And grad student Evan Enquist coaches tennis at an adaptive athletics clinic and helps run a national college wheelchair tournament on campus.

"The club growth is something I'm pretty proud of," said Akin, who is club president for the third year. "We were small, now we're huge and we're still growing. Each year we'll have four or five high school seniors ask if they can come and see us when they tour Alabama."

With increased membership and a renewed focus, the club has also been to attend more tournaments. This year alone, it traveled to Hilton Head, S.C., for the fall invitational, to Auburn for sectionals and then to Mercer, Chattanooga and Murfreesboro for other competitions.

"Club tennis has really shaped my whole college experience," Akin said. "Most of my best friends are from club tennis, and it's been pretty incredible to be a part of it."