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First year engineering grad student Sam Deluccia plays for club tennis at Penn, having spent his undergraduate years on varsity at Hobart College. 

Credit: Courtesy of Sam DeLuccia

The expansion and widespread success of club sports across the country has had a tremendous effect on college students over the last decade.

For club tennis, this has become especially evident with the creation of an official nationwide organization known as USTA Tennis on Campus.

And for members of Penn club tennis, Tennis on Campus has provided an opportunity that most did not think would be possible: to play competitive tennis at a high level without playing on varsity squads.

The level of play on the Penn club team is impressive in itself, with almost everyone having played USTA sectional or national level tournaments in high school, with some even coming to Penn despite being recruited elsewhere.

With the limited number of varsity spots available to American junior tennis players, and an even more limited number of walk-on spots awarded across all of Division I tennis, Tennis on Campus has become an attractive option for many players — even those with the capability to play at the varsity level.

And this past weekend at the Tennis on Campus National Championship, this trend was easy to see. Throughout the entire tournament there were dozens of players who could be playing at the higher level of college athletics but decided club provides a satisfyingly high level of tennis as well as the flexibility for the social and academic life of an ordinary college student.

On the men’s side, one of the players for three-time champion UC-Berkeley was an international student out of Hong Kong who was considered one of the top 100 recruits coming into college, but didn’t end up playing for the Golden Bears because an injury prevented him from being able to handle the daily grind of D-I sports.

Ashley Kitchen, member of the Auburn club team — winners of this year’s team national championship — was a 5-star recruit ranked 31st in the nation when she arrived in college. However, after quitting the team, she decided to join club and helped lead her team to victory.

Even here at Penn, there are several players who could have made the jump or have already gotten some varsity experience.

Junior Brigitte Desnoes played on the varsity team for her most of her freshman year before leaving. First year engineering grad student Sam DeLuccia played as the top man on his Hobart varsity team before graduating and joining club.

Sophomore McKay Novak came to Penn anticipating she would walk on but, after being on the roster, ended up deciding against it.

“I joined the team anticipating it would just be something I would do with a friend, practice once a week, and that’s it,” she said. “It turned out to be a great community, traveling to tournaments and going to practice with a relatively high level of tennis and was something I really enjoyed.

She was also impressed by the national championship hosted by the USTA, complete with media booths and merchandise tents.

“I was shocked by how legitimate it was. The whole setup was so official and USTA Tennis on Campus did an incredible job. The level of tennis was actually shocking, especially on the guys’ side. Every single guy was very, very good and could be playing college tennis. They all had a high level. Overall the level was so much higher than expected.”

As college athletics become more and more competitive, organizations like Tennis on Campus will grow and allow students to competing at a high level without playing on the varsity level.

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