Car crash, stress fracture, redshirt year – nothing could stop Jada Hart from playing tennis.
In the beginning of her freshman year of high school, Hart suffered a back injury from a sudden car accident. She had to fight her way back harder than she had ever done before.
“The accident was a major setback for me mentally and physically,” Hart said. “But I think time off was beneficial for me and my tennis.”
After returning, Hart competed in the International Tennis Federation Juniors Tournament in South Carolina in November 2012. She came out with five wins, advancing to the third round of the main draw.
For Hart, a redshirt freshman on the UCLA women’s tennis team, injuries serve to strengthen her mentality.
“I’ve been able to bounce back in the tournaments and put up some really great results,” Hart said. “Maybe I should get hurt more often, because I think I somehow do very well coming off injuries.”
The back injury was not the only setback for the Colton, California, native.
For years, coach Stella Sampras Webster had her eye set on Hart. During the initial recruiting process, however, Hart was out with a stress fracture in her left ankle.
After coming back in the middle of her junior year of high school with increased motivation and confidence, she grabbed the attention of UCLA.
“When we decided to offer her, we felt good about it because we knew that she was someone who wanted to be here,” Sampras Webster said. “She has a game that’s going to get better and we know that she’s very committed to her tennis.”
And just like that, Hart had fulfilled her dream.
“When I got the call about the scholarship here, I was shocked at first but also very excited because it was one of my top schools,” Hart said. “It was a crazy recruiting process, but in the end I just felt comfortable here and it felt like home.”
After graduating early from Riverside Virtual School, Hart planned to start at UCLA in January 2016. However, due to troubles with admissions, she arrived in March 2016.
Knowing that there were only a few matches left in the 2016 season, Hart decided a few weeks prior to her arrival that she wanted to redshirt.
“Coming in and having the mindset that I was going to redshirt, I wasn’t sure how the rest of the year would be with the team because I wasn’t going to be competing,” Hart said. “But it turned out to be better than I expected. Just getting acclimated to the team was a great transition and it was worth coming in early.”
Initially, the adjustment for Hart wasn’t easy, and getting her to open up was really key, Sampras Webster said.
“She’s tough to get to know, at least for me, because she can be very quiet,” Sampras Webster said. “Even though she may not say a whole lot in front of me, she’s thinking a whole lot. She observes, and when she does talk, it’s meaningful.”
From Hart’s perspective, it was all about being comfortable in her role of helping her team through encouragement rather than play.
“I knew that most of the attention that the coaches were putting on the team was going to be towards the girls who were playing and I understood that,” Hart said. “I accepted my role as being the cheerleader on the sidelines, just being able to support my team in any way I could.”
Going from a cheerleader to one of the top six players on the lineup this season was nerve-wracking, Hart said. She had to adjust to the competitive college environment quickly, which she did, losing her first match of the regular season against Loyola Marymount before winning the next four in a row.
In her game, Hart’s serve, strong forehand and control of the court have made her a weapon, Sampras Webster said.
“She’s one of those kids that you can count on,” Sampras Webster said. “She’s going to fight, especially if it’s the last match on. She will do whatever it takes to win for the Bruins.”
Hart has stepped right into the Bruins’ doubles lineup, compiling a 26-5 overall record this year.
Prior to this season at UCLA, Hart and freshman Ena Shibahara were the U.S. Open Juniors Girls’ Doubles champions and had previously competed together for years, bringing strong chemistry to the Bruins from the start.
“We know how each other feels,” Shibahara said. “We both know when we’re having a tough day or when we’re having a great day. We might be stressed out, but that’s when we can help each other and boost each other up.”
Through the first part of the season, Hart and Shibahara went 14-4 and reached No. 4 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. However, after the team dropped a couple of doubles points in a row, Hart switched to a new partner – junior Terri Fleming.
“I love playing doubles with Jada,” Fleming said. “It’s fun and we complement each other well. She brings a lot, great serves and great volleys, so it’s just easy to play with her.”
Thus far, Hart and Fleming, ranked No. 25, have lost only one match to Paris Corley and Lauren Marker of Arizona, compared to their 12 wins.
By facing injuries and adversity, Hart built toughness and independence, qualities that teach and inspire her teammates.
“She’s a really strong girl,” Shibahara said. “I’ve learned a lot from her about being independent, because she can do a lot by herself. I think having her on the team is a really great addition because she’s a good model.”
Beyond her strength, Hart has a kind and funny nature that ties together a team of mixed personalities.
“We always say that she’s kind of like the middleman,” Fleming said. “She can be chill when she wants, or she can just be crazy.”
The dynamic and closeness of this team are much different than last year, Hart said, which adds to its effective communication and success on the court.
With a 42-15 combined singles and doubles record in her first season of play, the redshirt freshman has proven her skill and is excited to continue her time as a Bruin.
“I know it’s going to go by really fast and I’m just soaking in every opportunity and experience,” Hart said.