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Freshman Maya Urata competes against Temple's Veronika Kulhava during the 25th Annual Cissie Leary Invitational at the Hamlin Tennis Center on Sept. 24. Credit: Ana Glassman

Maya Urata almost opted against playing her sport the collegiate level.

Before college, she held two particular passions: singing and tennis. But — luckily for Penn — she ultimately decided to go the tennis route.

Though it's still early in her career, the freshman phenom has taken on a lead role for Penn, going 6-4 in doubles and 5-3 in singles across her first four meets as a Quaker. 

Urata started to dabble in tennis around 5 years old, then began to take the sport more seriously by competing in tournaments around the age of 10. The opportunity for individual and team competition drew her closer to the sport.

She shared that tennis can get “lonely” at times because there is no coaching allowed. So, ultimately, she has to manage the match on her own, including her emotions and tactics. 

“I’m really glad I’m at Penn where I now have the team aspect,” Urata said. “I did play all four years of high school tennis, but that was only in the fall for a couple months and was quite different from college team tennis but still really fun.” 

Coming in as a five-star recruit to Penn, Urata has brought fresh energy and a history of athletic success. This past year, she was a USTA National Clay Court Championships Doubles Semi-Finalist, among other designations as the Most Valuable Girls’ Tennis Player in her hometown of La Cañada, Calif.

Urata noted that many of the skills she has honed on the tennis court have helped her in the classroom as well. Tennis matches are filled with stress, she says, but she believes that the stress and high-pressure situations make her a better player on the court and more equipped to handle challenges in life. 

“What’s important about tennis is having grit, and you learn how to build independence,” Urata said, “which has been very fundamental in shaping the person I am today.” 

As tennis has been part of most of Urata’s life, the big names in tennis have shaped her and her grace on the court, such as Roger Federer, whom she had the chance to watch play. She admires the way he carries himself on and off the court, his humbleness, and his respect for his opponents.

Urata also treasures making fond memories off the court. While adjusting to college on a new coast with a different rhythm is a challenge for any student, Urata has made a point to explore the city.

“In the free time that I do have, I enjoy hanging out with my friends and exploring local restaurants and cafes,” Urata said. “My very first weekend here, actually, I went to the US Open and then to the Harry Styles concert in New York. I love that Penn is located in a great city and adjacent to other remarkable cities.” 

And although Urata misses her family and the Southern California weather, she wanted to go to school on the East Coast since the beginning of the recruiting process, ideally in a bright and vibrant city. 

“My hometown is really small,” Urata said, “so I really wanted to push myself to have a different experience in being part of an urban campus. Ultimately, I chose Penn because it combines great tennis with elite academics in a historic, exciting history.” 

Juggling practices, free time, and schoolwork as a pre-med student is a challenging feat, but Urata has made goals for herself that help ground her on the court. 

“On the court, it is all about what I can do to help our team win the Ivy League,” Urata said. “So, I plan to work really hard to continue to improve my game so that I can contribute in a positive way.”