She’s only been a Maroon for a few months, but first-year tennis player Jennifer Kung has already compiled a lengthy list of accomplishments.
Won the ITA Central Regional tournament. Won the ITA Small College Championship. Competed at the International University Challenge of Tennis. Ranked first among D-III women in the central region. And the tennis season has barely even begun.
Kung is just one of an outstanding crop of first-years that is already leaving its mark on Chicago’s program. Seven of the team’s 12 players are first-years, and two of Kung’s classmates, Carmen VacaGuzman and Kendra Higgins, are also ranked in the top 10 in the Central.
Kung said a mixture of factors convinced her to leave California, her home state, and bring her game to the Maroons.
“Chicago was one of my top choice because of its academic reputation,” Kung said. “Also, I liked it better than some of the D-I schools I got into because I knew would definitely have a chance to play a lot of tennis here.”
“At UCLA or Berkeley, my other top choices, I wouldn’t really be able [to play a lot] because their teams are really hard to get onto,” Kung said.
With the Maroons, Kung has had no shortage of time on the court. She won a tournament, the ITA Central Regional, before classes started last fall, and that win earned her a spot in the ITA Small College Championship, which was played in Alabama in October.
Kung won the D-III bracket in Alabama but lost to the winner of the NAIA bracket. Still Kung turned out to be the top American finisher at the tournament, which meant she was one of three women who represented the U.S. at the International University Challenge in France.
At the University Challenge, Kung was up against world-class competition, and it showed.
“The players there were really good. Our country was the only one that didn’t send players who were already professionals,” Kung said.
Playing in singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles, Kung lost all three of her matches, and the U.S. finished fourth in the eight-team field. What’s worse, Kung went all the way to France and didn’t even get a chance to go sightseeing.
“We were basically playing tennis all day long,” Kung said.
Now that she’s back stateside, Kung is preparing for the long stretch of the tennis season, which begins this weekend with matches against UIC and DePaul. The women practice as a team for two hours Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and the players meet with the coaches individually or in pairs twice more each week.
Besides that, Kung goes in a few more times a week to practice her serves, but she’s okay with balancing school and tennis.
“It’s tough, but I don’t mind,” Kung said. “Tennis is a really nice break from studying.”
Going forward, Kung hopes to improve on her doubles play over the course of the season but is confident that the Maroons will have one the strongest years in program history.
“I definitely think we could probably win UAAs, because we’re really good this year,” Kung said of her squad, which has never finished first at the conference tournament. “And I think we’ll do well at NCAAs. We’ll definitely qualify this year.”