Ashley Yeah enters final season with No. 70 singles ranking

Current+senior+Ashley+Yeah+serves+against+Rutgers+on+March+23%2C+2022.+According+to+Yeah%2C+she+has+always+kept+athletics+and+education+at+equal+importance%2C+which+contributed+to+commitment+at+Illinois.

Sidney Malone

Current senior Ashley Yeah serves against Rutgers on March 23, 2022. According to Yeah, she has always kept athletics and education at equal importance, which contributed to commitment at Illinois.

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

For most, the decision of where to play Division I sports relies on the state of that University’s program. How nice are the facilities? Will I be winning a lot of games? Do I believe this program will give me the tools to take me to the next level?

But on top of all of these questions, senior Ashley Yeah of Illinois women’s tennis was also weighing the academic side of her options. Throughout her childhood, Yeah forged a lifestyle that allowed her to excel both on the tennis court and inside the walls of Los Gatos High School. She saw no reason why her dual success could not be replicated at the next level.

“Throughout my life I’ve always put both school and tennis high up,” Yeah said. “I always focused on school as well. One of the main reasons I chose to come to Illinois was also because of the stellar computer science program. My priority is to always keep both school and tennis at a high level, and I think being used to that since high school, it was not too bad of a transition for me. I think school here has a pretty good program for both school and tennis so it makes it easier for me to reach out and balance my schedule because everyone is so accommodating.”

Being able to succeed at a Division I tennis program on top of the inherent course load of a computer science major, let alone a top computer science program in the country, is nearly unheard of.

Perhaps the most simple way to view Yeah’s progress as a player while at Illinois is to compare her two outings at the Wahoowa Invitational. Yeah began her collegiate tennis career in September 2019 with a trip to Charlottesville, Va., where she won one of her seven matches against competitors from Virginia, NC State, Kansas, Princeton and Oklahoma. However, when Yeah returned nearly three years later to the day to kick off the 2022 fall season, she did not lose a single match.

Yeah built on this start to the 2022 fall season in tremendous fashion, winning the UTR College Circuit doubles championship with senior Josie Frazier and picking up three singles wins at the ITA All-American Championships. These performances resulted in Yeah being designated as the 70th-best singles player in all women’s college tennis going into the spring season.

The growth of Yeah’s game has been a steady path upwards throughout her entire collegiate career, and although she is happy about the first-time ranking, Yeah believes there is even more she can do.

“I think going into college tournaments, everyone wants to be ranked,” Yeah said.  “That’s always the goal, but it’s not how you get there. I think all the experience I have been able to build up throughout every season here has ultimately put me in this situation. I am really grateful for that, but there is still a lot of room to go up from here.”

While very few would try to argue that an athlete’s journey comes easily, it is evident that Yeah had to battle against additional adversity during her time at Illinois. Beginning her career in fall 2019 meant her first spring season was outright canceled due to the pandemic after just 14 matches while her sophomore year saw no fall season and the spring season was limited to Big Ten play only.

Despite the sheer magnitude of missed opportunities to work on her game, Yeah’s improvement has yet to falter, particularly in singles play, where just last year, Yeah set a personal record of fewest losses in a season (five).

As the upperclassmen continue to move on from a pair of irregular seasons, one may assume an individual leader or two have risen up to help guide the team through ups and downs. However, Yeah believes it is the group as a whole rather than a single person that will be there for the Illini as they look to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017.

“The first two seasons we had weren’t really like the real ‘normal’ season,” Yeah said. “But I think last year was great to get through all of that and take on more of a leadership role. It’s not too bad for our team because we are pretty close and everybody gets along. It’s really about everyone pushing everyone. So it is not like we have the biggest leadership role because (the team) makes it pretty easy, the chemistry has really helped with that aspect.”

 

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