Walk-on serving it up

A comeback win over Nebraska-Omaha’s Jacqueline Baude was Ayaka Terakawa’s first win as a member of the Portland State women’s tennis team. It was the moment she knew she belonged. A stellar athlete who took a chance and elevated her game to the next level, Terakawa made her walk-on tryout for the team last December count.

Her journey to success started when she first picked up a tennis racquet as a 7-year-old. She found out in her teens that she was better than a lot of the other players her age. She was the number-one player at Liberty High School in Hillsboro all four years she attended. Her high school tennis success included four consecutive state tournament appearances, and ended with a semifinal finish in the 2012 OSAA 5A State Tournament.

After graduating from high school she wanted to choose a school based on academics first. Majoring in advertising with a graphic design minor at PSU, she didn’t have plans to continue her tennis career. PSU’s tennis club gave her a chance to get back into playing at a fun but competitive level. Tennis club made her realize that she could play at a higher level with consistent playing time.

In the summer after her first year at PSU she volunteered with her high school tennis coach and he encouraged her to ask for a tryout because he believed in her potential. Her coach’s support instilled the confidence that she could make the team as a walk-on.

The tryout consisted of a two-day hitting session with the team. Coach Jay Sterling said that if he saw potential he would bring her back. The Division 1 collegiate atmosphere was something Terakawa wanted to be a part of. The coach saw enough to give her a spot but she knew there were aspects of her game she would have to improve at this level.

She describes her varsity experience as a journey with a lot of ups and downs. The desire to improve isn’t just for herself, but also for the team. She expected the practices to be tough and grueling, and they were. There were times she felt exhausted, but fought through.

The adjustment to the pace of college tennis was particularly difficult. Her early matches taught her to be more patient and consistent. Her first collegiate win created a blueprint for success in the future; practice time would be crucial as she developed game plans and tactics for each match. The sense of accomplishment from the win created a hunger for the rest of the season.

That first season (last year) was one to remember. The team doubled their conference wins from the previous year and made the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Championship. This season they have set their goals high: to be first place in the Big Sky as well as winning the conference championship. “This would be taking [PSU] women’s tennis to another level. We deserve it. We can do it with all the time, sweat and tears,” Terakawa said.

As a walk-on she started with a chip on her shoulder. She wanted to prove to herself and everyone that she could handle it. Now she has set her sights higher, knowing she can help contribute to the team. The PSU women’s tennis team is in action next at the Gonzaga Invitational in Spokane, Washington Nov. 7–9.