Garden City's Alexa Graham was crushed when she heard the news that her college tennis career at North Carolina had come to an abrupt end after the NCAA canceled spring sports over concerns about coronavirus.
A few days later, Graham was thrilled to learn she could return to UNC after the NCAA granted athletes an extra year of eligibility.
“It’s the best news we have gotten,” Graham said. “All us seniors want to play professional tennis, but we love this program more than anything.”
North Carolina (18-0) was ranked No. 1 in the country when the season was canceled. Graham was the No. 3 ranked singles player in the nation and has a 106-22 singles record at UNC, good for the third-best winning percentage (.828) in school history.
Graham and her teammates were in the Bahamas on spring break when they heard the news that the season was over.
“We all took the news hard,” said Graham. “To think that this is how us seniors are going to end college tennis is devastating. We knew this year we had such a huge chance to do big things in the postseason and possibly win the NCAA team event. I’ve put so much time and heart into this program so it’s heartbreaking."
Graham also missed out on a potential opportunity to play at the U.S. Open. The singles winner of the NCAA Tournament earns a wild-card entry into the main draw in Flushing Meadows.
“It’s unfortunate," Graham said, "but right now I’m thinking about the team mostly.”
Graham, a three-time All-American, said returning for another year of college tennis is worth putting her professional career on hold.
“As excited as I am to play professionally," Graham said, "the opportunities are endless as a collegiate athlete and playing for this team is so fulfilling.”
Graham played at Garden City High School as a freshman in 2012 and won the Nassau girls singles title and made Newsday's All-Long Island team. She finished her high school coursework online to give her more of an opportunity to play and practice. She played in the U.S. Open juniors in 2015, losing in the second round.
Though tennis is often thought of as an individual sport, college tennis allows players to compete as a team. That's an experience Graham doesn't want to miss.
“There’s always going to be jobs and there’s always going to be a pro tour,” said Graham. "Nothing has ever made me happier than playing college tennis, so everything else can wait.”