February 5, 2023

Current+senior+Ashley+Yeah+serves+on+March+23%2C+2022+vs+Rutgers.+According to+Yeah%2C+she+always+kept+sports+and+education+same++meaning%2C +who+contributed+to+the+engagement+in+Illinois.

Sydney Malone

Current senior Ashley Yeah plays Rutgers on March 23, 2022. According to Yeah, she’s always considered exercise and education to be of equal importance, which contributed to her involvement in Illinois.

For most, the decision as to where Division I sports are played depends on the status of that university’s program. How nice are the facilities? Will I win many games? Do I believe this program will give me the tools to take me to the next level?

But in addition to all of those questions, Illinois women’s tennis senior Ashley Yeah was also weighing the academic side of her options. Throughout her childhood, Yeah forged a lifestyle that allowed her to shine both on the tennis court and within the walls of Los Gatos High School. She saw no reason why her double success couldn’t be replicated at the next level.

“All my life I’ve always valued both school and tennis,” Yeah said. “I’ve always focused on school. One of the main reasons I chose Illinois was the outstanding computer science program. My priority is to always keep both school and tennis at a high level and I think since I’ve been used to it since high school it wasn’t too bad of a transition for me. I think the school here has a pretty good school and tennis program so it makes it easier for me to achieve and balance my schedule because everyone is so accommodating.”

Being able to succeed in 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 almost unheard of.

Perhaps the easiest way to see Yeah’s progress as a player during her time in Illinois is to compare her two appearances at the Wahoowa Invitational. Yeah began her collegiate tennis career in September 2019 with a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia where she won one of her seven games against competitors from Virginia, NC State, Kansas, Princeton and Oklahoma. However, when Yeah returned almost to the day three years later to open the Fall 2022 season, she didn’t lose a single match.

Yes, I’ve built on that start to the Fall 2022 season in an excellent way, winning the UTR College Circuit doubles championship with senior Josie Frazier and clinching three singles wins at the ITA All-American Championships. Those accomplishments led to Yeah being named the 70th best singles player in all of women’s collegiate tennis for the spring season.

The growth of Yeah’s game has been a steady upward trend throughout her collegiate career, and while she’s delighted with her first place finish, Yeah believes she can still do more.

“I think when you get into college tournaments, everyone wants to be ranked,” Yeah said. “That’s always the goal, but that’s not how you get there. I think all the experience I’ve had here every season is what ultimately got me into this situation. I’m really grateful for that, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement from here.”

While very few would attempt to argue that an athlete’s path is easy, it’s evident that Yeah faced additional adversity during her time in Illinois. Beginning her career in fall 2019 meant her first spring season was canceled entirely after only 14 games due to the pandemic, while her sophomore year had no fall season and the spring season was limited to Big Ten games only.

Despite the sheer volume 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 for fewest losses in a season (five).

With the top tier moving on after two erratic seasons, it’s safe to assume that an individual leader or two have risen to guide the team through ups and downs. However, Yeah believes it will be the group as a whole, rather than an individual, that will be there for the Illini as they attempt 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 be more of a leader. It’s not that bad for our team because we’re pretty close and we all get along. It’s really about everyone pushing everyone else. So it’s not like we have the biggest leadership because (the team) makes it pretty easy, the chemistry really helped with that aspect.”


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