Order in the courts

Order in the courts
Freshman Lucciana Perez and Junior Mary Stoiana celebrate their win after Texas A&M’s match against TCU on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, at the Mitchell Tennis Center. (Connor May/The Battalion) (Photo by Connor May)

It’s a cold, snowy night in Southbury, Connecticut, and Mary Stoiana is miserable.

The tennis court has a bubble that keeps the playing surface clear. That’s something to be grateful for. But it doesn’t keep out the winter chill — Mary just pushes herself through it. 

9-11 p.m. Five days a week. For years on end. 

“You have to get your practice in,” Mary said. “‘Just be grateful you even get a court.’ I remember thinking things like that.”

Mary hails from a tennis family. Val Stoiana, Mary’s father, played Division I tennis at St. John’s and later began a career as a tennis instructor. Naturally, older brother Nick and later Mary became his pupils.

“I had a built-in practice partner and a built-in coach at the start with my dad,” Mary said. “We had these tennis courts that were five minutes from our house right down the road, so we just went and played all the time. It was sort of a family thing. It was super easy to go out there and play.”

As anyone who grew up with a sibling can understand, Mary’s first goal as a kid was to beat her big brother.

Junior Mary Stoiana hits the ball at Texas A&M’s match against Florida on Sunday, March 3, 2024, at the Mitchell Tennis Center. (© Connor May/The Battalion) (Photo by Connor May)

“He was always there as the older brother and somebody I wanted to be as good as,” Mary said. “I wanted to copy everything he did like how siblings do. Him being there and watching him inspired me to always want to keep up with him and always be right there with him.”

Along the way, Mary began competing in local Connecticut tournaments. Soon, she was winning them — which became a problem itself. 

“Growing up and playing in Southbury, Connecticut, there’s not a lot of people learning tennis in that area,” Nick said. “As Mary and I started playing tournaments and started ascending the ranks, we began to outgrow our local competition. So when it became time for us to really have to travel across America, that’s not very cheap or even very accessible to a lot of people.” 

Youth tennis is not an affordable sport. Especially at the elite level that Mary began to reach. While the Stoianas benefited from familial instruction, they didn’t have the funding for the advantages national-level players enjoyed or the tournaments they played. 

“They didn’t grow up going through academies and training centers,” Val said. “They grew up with me and the opportunities I could give them.”

So the Stoianas did what they could. They were able to build successful youth careers by leveraging connections, cashing in favors, teaching tennis to earn equipment money and by learning from every opportunity they had — something Mary especially took to heart. 

After one tournament in Massachusetts, Val said, Nick was eliminated and tuned out, trying to come to terms with what went wrong. Not so with Mary.

“When Mary loses, she just kind of comes back and starts watching the players who are still playing,” Val said. “She would just sit there in the bleachers and watch every single match that went on. I’m really proud of her for that, for coming back and being so focused and willing to stay the course.”

Back in the Southbury snow, Mary combines the lessons she learned with an unyielding discipline to better her skills — in conditions much less cozy than the national academies and training centers she didn’t have access to. 

Pullquote Photo

“Proving to myself that I’m tough enough to do that, at a young age, that definitely helped,” Mary said.

— Mary Stoiana

It’s a combination that eventually brought her to the attention of the nation’s top college programs and led her to Texas A&M.

The Aggies are the first true team Mary has ever been a part of, and she’s enjoying the opportunity to be a part of a program in a sport that’s primarily an individual competition.

“Even after my time at A&M, it goes right back to individual tournaments where I’m just playing for me and it doesn’t really affect anybody,” Mary said. “It feels really cool to play for something bigger than you, and there’s so many people who care who you didn’t even think paid attention, and it’s all because we’re all wearing the A&M on our shirt.” 

For the first time in her career, Mary is not struggling for resources — which means all of those long winter nights have been paying off with 2023 SEC Player of the Year, Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American honors in both singles and doubles and the 2023 ITA All-American singles championship, with the ITA No. 1 ranking to go along with it.

But one of her favorite achievements is something a bit closer to home: earning a spot in the qualifying rounds for the U.S. Open. 

“That was an absolute dream come true,” Mary said. “I grew up an hour and a half from where the U.S. Open takes place in New York City, and I grew up watching it and I’d always watch the pros.” 

That’s not to say Mary is satisfied. She’s got a laundry list of championships she has yet to win and accolades she has yet to earn. 

And she’ll keep working towards them with the same tenacity and burning desire to win that kept her warm through years of long nights in that Southbury snow.

“She hasn’t let the success she’s had change her or change her as a player,” Nick said. “She’s always had a lot of integrity and a plan.”

Roddick overcomes hardships to rally on clay

JC Roddick’s tennis journey has had its fair share of challenges and triumphs. A junior with Texas A&M men’s tennis, JC has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the college tennis scene, showcasing not only his athletic ability but also his determination to overcome setbacks both on and off the court.

Born and raised in San Antonio, JC’s connection to tennis runs deep within his family. However, it was his uncle, John Roddick, whose soaring career during JC’s developmental years ignited the flame of ambition within him.

JC’s “Uncle John” played a monumental role in his early tennis days. JC’s love for the game kickstarted at one of the University of Oklahoma’s summer camps when John was the head coach of the men’s tennis team. Despite residing in different states, John ensured JC received tailored training, recognizing the late start he had in the sport.

Junior J.C. Roddick returns the ball During Texas A&M’s match against Ole Miss on Sunday, March 10, 2024 at Mitchell Tennis Center. (Connor May/The Battalion) (Photo by Connor May)

“When he got to college, he had a lot of growing to do, not so much on the court, but he had other issues where he needed to get better in school,” John said. Despite a promising start, JC faced a significant hurdle during his freshman season at the University of Central Florida. Academic setbacks led to a suspension from the team, forcing him to reassess his priorities and make a pivotal decision about his future in tennis.

“I was kind of destroying myself because I got [into Central Florida] thinking I could do whatever I want, whenever I want, and then my uncle showed me some tough love and really told me what I needed to hear,.” JC said.

John used his unique position as a family member to be more than just a coach; he became a mentor and guided JC through the obstacles of both tennis and life. 

With the help from his Uncle John and determination for a change, JC made the leap to A&M for the 2022-23 season. The change in scenery proved to be transformative, as he logged an impressive 13-5 singles record and closed out the year on a remarkable five-match win streak. His debut season in College Station was a period of growth and self-discipline.

Balancing the demands of both tennis and  his studies proved to be a daunting task, but JC found support from his coaches, who created a “stress-free environment” and helped him navigate the academic challenges. Specifically, coach Steve Denton played a crucial role in JC’s journey. 

“Steve Denton has been a third father figure to me, and he has helped me through a lot of challenges, behind the scenes, off the court,” JC said.

— JC Roddick

As JC aspires to play professional tennis, he chooses to focus on the present, embracing the lessons learned from his past experiences. He emphasized the importance of enjoying the journey and not worrying too much about the uncertainties of the future.

“I live in the now,” JC said.

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