Countdown: UCLA Welcomes Kaitlin Ray
by Keith Kropp, 4 April 2011
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As an energetic youngster growing up in Little Rock, Ark., Kaitlin Ray had several sports competing for her attention. One of them was tennis. But soccer and gymnastics were a lot of fun, too.
Blue Chip recruit Kaitlin Ray
heads to Westwood
© Julie Wrege, TennisRecruiting.net
It took a few years, but Ray became serious about tennis. When that happened, at age 11, her enormous potential in the sport began to materialize.
The blue-chip recruit, who signed a scholarship in November to play tennis this fall at UCLA, emerged as a top junior in Arkansas. However, Ray didn't want to just be the best junior player in Arkansas. Achieving that objective would require a significant change.
"Little Rock is a great place to grow up, but it's not a tennis mecca," said Ray, who began playing tennis at age 4. "It was getting hard to find top players to play against."
Ray would soon learn there was a tennis mecca that could help her become a better player - the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C. She began training at Smith Stearns in the first semester of her sophomore year in high school and has not regretted making that move.
"It's been a good decision for me," Ray said. "It was hard to leave my family and friends. (Smith Stearns) is such a positive environment and the staff is unbelievable. It's been the best two years of my life."
Under the tutelage of coaches B.J. Stearns, Billy Stearns and Jolene Watanabe, the 5-foot-5 Ray began taking her game to a higher level.
"All the coaches have been helpful, teaching me shot selection and strategy," Ray said. "They've really helped me to hit a bigger ball and you need that as you go higher."