Stepping up to the service line, Nina Ye PO ’24 glances at her opponent. Tossing the ball, she smashes an unhittable serve straight down Broadway.
Originally from Tacoma, Washington, Ye was crowned singles champion at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Regional Championship Oct. 3 and awarded All-American honors. But during the tournament, Ye said she “never focused on” attaining these accolades.
“To be honest, I did not know what All-American meant or what the honor was for before the tournament,” Ye said. “That was never the goal — the goal was just to improve and get better from game to game. But I’m extremely honored to receive the honor and it was a lovely, pleasant surprise.”
Ye won in straight sets at regionals before defaulting a championship win when teammate Angie Zhou PO ’25, who also made it to the finals, withdrew after a doubles championship victory.
Before becoming a rising star for Pomona-Pitzer, Ye started playing tennis at the age of six and a half — which, according to her standards, is “pretty late.”
“In Florida, when I played against other kids my age when I was younger, they would be like, ‘I remember starting tennis when I was two or three,’” she said.
Ye picked up the sport quickly courtesy of her mother’s efforts. With tennis lessons taking up an hour of her mother’s fitness routine, Ye became interested and followed her to the courts.
“She would let me try five minutes first, and then 10 minutes the next time because I started getting really into it,” Ye said. “She started telling me my swing wasn’t too bad, eventually allowing me to take her entire lesson spot; that’s how I got into it.”
While progressing from youth to higher levels of tennis, Ye said, the key to maintaining her excellence in the sport was to keep from burning out and rely on her support system at home.
“A lot of my tennis friends around me quit after age 16 or 17 becuase their parents pushed them too hard during their junior days and they burnt out,” she said. “I’m very lucky in the sense that my parents always gave me enough space to balance everything in my life, knowing I wanted to do tennis simply because I loved the sport.”
Initially, Ye was primarily looking to pursue college tennis on the East Coast. That changed after Mike Morgan, the P-P women’s tennis coach, reached out to her to offer a visit.
“I decided to give the campus visit a shot, and the second I got out of the plane, I was like ‘this is it,’” Ye said. “The weather, scenery of the mountains really just spoke to me.”
Midway through her first year playing collegiate tennis due to the pandemic, Ye is glad to regain a sense of camaraderie with her teammates.
“My goal was to really just make the best out of the situation,” she said. “Collectively, as a team, we just want to really enjoy the time that we have together.”
With tennis mostly an individual sport, however, the mental strength required for each match is immense.
“Our team jokes about how you’d have to be crazy to play tennis because it’s so emotionally draining,” Ye said. “Every match is a battle and you don’t take anything for granted because you’re not racing against a shot clock or timer … if your opponent is outplaying you mentally by just a little bit, you don’t win the match.”
Although tennis comes with its challenges, Ye continues to enjoy playing and recognizes the ways that it helps her.
“Tennis offers some pretty healthy competition,” she said. “It forces you to work through challenges and problems by yourself because you’re out there alone.”
Looking to the future, Ye said she hopes to continue learning valuable life lessons from her sport.
“I view tennis as an avenue for me to not only learn how to deal with losses, but also teaches me how to connect with other people as well,” Ye said. “It’s also a great way for me to let out my competitive energy; it’s definitely going to be with me for the rest of my life.”