Sometimes the demands of a student-athlete’s hectic schedule call tight windows to get things done. This was the case for Wendy Zhang, a junior on the Rice women’s tennis team, who had to speak with me while waiting for a flight back home from Lubbock, Texas following last Sunday’s Rice vs. Texas Tech University tennis match. Zhang said she has always been used to this hectic lifestyle, and that playing tennis competitively since the age of seven has prepared her to play at an elite level at the Division I ranks.
Zhang has taken a unique route to get Rice. She was born in Shanghai, China before her parents migrated to Canada when she was three years old. Zhang and her family lived there for three years until they moved back to China, where Zhang spent the remainder of her childhood. In high school, Zhang once again came back to live in the U.S. and Canada, then moved to Arizona and Florida. Zhang took online high school classes for four yours while playing competitive tennis and accepted a scholarship to play for the University of Miami in 2015.
After two years at Miami, Zhang said she began thinking about transferring schools for her junior season, at which point she reached out to head coach Elizabeth Schmidt and Rice.
“My main reason for transferring was I really wanted to go to a better school for academics and I also got along so well with Coach Schmidt,” Zhang said.
Zhang, a current sport management major minoring in business, had established herself as a special player while at Miami. Zhang earned All-American honors in doubles for the Hurricanes, finishing her sophomore season No. 8 in the nation in the final Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings with a 17-9 record. She finished that year at Miami the No. 81 player in singles while playing in the No. 3 position, and collected a marquee win against the No. 20 ranked player in the nation that same season.
Zhang has carried over much of that success to Rice. On Jan. 17, Zhang was named Conference USA Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week after going 3-0 in both singles and doubles against Brigham Young University, the University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University in the “Metroplex Mania” tournament in Dallas. Zhang has begun the season at the No. 1 position in singles as well as in doubles play with fellow junior Lindsey Hodge. Zhang and Hodge had their best performance of the season against No. 18 ranked University of Southern Carolina, where they defeated the No. 18 doubles team in the nation to help lead the Owls to the doubles point in that match.
Zhang said she is more focused on her opponent than her spot on the team.
“I don’t really think about the position that I’m playing and I just focus on my matches and try my best and give it my all,.” Zhang said.
Zhang has been a key piece to the Owls team success thus far this season; the team sits at an overall record of 8-3 with quality wins against Princeton University and on the road against No. 15 Texas A&M University. Before a loss to No. 8 Texas Tech University on the road this past Sunday, Rice was riding a four-game win streak and rose as high as No. 23 in the national rankings.
Zhang said the team is playing well as a unit this season.
“We are definitely on the right track and everybody is doing so well at each position,” Zhang said. “We have a clear vision of what we need to work on and to keep going out there every match determined to win all the way until we end [the season] on a good note.”
As for the upcoming spring break, Zhang’s schedule will remain hectic as always.
“During Spring Break we are still in the middle of season and will practicing just as hard,” Zhang said. “But it does give us a chance to catch up on schoolwork and hopefully get ahead so we don’t become too stressed out the end of the semester.”