By Zack Kirby, Chattanooga ,Tenn., –Junior Kayla Jones, Memphis, played in her first tennis tournament at the age of five and immediately fell in love with the sport.
Her first coach was her father, Keita, who played collegiate tennis at Jackson State and Rust College.
After taking a two year hiatus when she was eight, she picked up a racquet again at age 11, and has never looked back.
Thirteen years later, she now plays collegiate tennis for the Chattanooga Mocs.
“[Tennis] is kind of a love-hate part aspect,” Jones said. “I love that you have to get out there and think for yourself. You can’t blame it on anybody else. If you lose, it’s your fault. It’s not that the coach did anything or called a wrong play, or your teammates screwed up. It’s all on you.”
Prior to playing collegiate tennis, Jones said she credits two people for convincing her that Chattanooga was the place for her: Head coach Jeff Clark and current junior Alicia “Red” Payne, Memphis, who plays point guard for the women’s basketball team.
Jones and Payne both graduated from White Station High School, and decided to continue their friendship in the Scenic City.
“Red and I played basketball together in high school, and she committed before me,” Jones said. “She told me how great [Chattanooga] was and after I visited, I also made my commitment official.”
Once she graduated from high school, Jones said the transition from high school to collegiate tennis had many differences, when regarding competition.
“High school tennis wasn’t very competitive,” Jones said. “Our USTA (United States Tennis Association) tennis is what we based [competition] by. I would say that it is the same competition level, and there’s more people on your level. I love college tennis more because you have a team and people can help you when you’re feeling down. It’s not as individual.”
When Jones has down time outside of tennis she enjoys watching the TV show “Scandal” and being outside, especially walking around downtown Chattanooga, the river walk, Lookout Mountain and Sunset Rock.
She is also a biology pre-professional major, and plans to minor in chemistry.
Upon her graduation, she plans on becoming a dentist.
This weekend, Jones and the women’s tennis team will compete at the ITA Ohio Valley Regionals in Knoxville from Oct. 17-21.
“It [upcoming tournament] is a different surface,” Jones said. “I enjoy that it is indoors and faster courts because it suits my game. I grew up playing on indoor hard courts. We had some really good matches at the Steve Baras tournament and I think we can build on that.”