From left, freshmen Paula Gonzalez, Catie Meighan and Casey Zhong, are each four-star recruits. The women's tennis team has had an increase in successful recruits in the last 4 years. (Courtesy Lehigh Sports)

Lehigh women’s tennis freshman class highlights program’s recruiting turnaround

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The Lehigh women’s tennis team saw an addition of four-star recruits to its roster this season.

Over the past four years, six four-star players have joined the team, and three of them make up this year’s freshman class. However, four-star freshmen tennis players Catie Meighan and Casey Zhong didn’t always see themselves as high-profile recruits.

Following in her brother’s footsteps, Meighan started her athletic career as a swimmer but quickly realized it wasn’t the sport for her. When Meighan was in middle school, her mom — who was a tennis player — encouraged her to try the game. That’s when Meighan’s competitive tennis career began.

“I actually wasn’t even very good until my junior and senior year,” Meighan said. “I was a low three, almost two-star recruit until I kicked it up for college athletics. It definitely took time.”

Zhong started playing at a younger age but didn’t realize her potential until the end of her high school career. At 10 years old, Zhong didn’t play tennis because she knew she was talented or because she knew she could have a college career. She played because she loved the game. She said she didn’t fully understand her potential until about a year ago.

Both athletes narrowed down their college searches to the same list of schools: Lehigh, Colgate University and Tufts University. The recruiting process is rarely the same for any two athletes, but both women knew they were looking for a balance of athletics and academics. Ultimately, they knew Lehigh was the best place for them.

“I was really looking for a great tennis team and great academics, and obviously all of those schools had that,” Zhong said. “On my visit, I saw that Lehigh had the interdisciplinary programs like IDEAS and CSB, and that was really attractive to me because I wanted to do something like that. It (was) somewhere I could see myself for the next four years.”

In the same way athletes try to find the schools that are right for them, coaches try to find athletes that will be the right fit for their programs. Tennis coach Sarah Short looks for players who mirror the values of her program and the rest of the university. She lists personal growth and leadership development as two traits she looks for in recruits.

Meighan said that once an athlete gets to college, their recruiting ranking is just a number. She said everyone on the collegiate level is talented.

“There’s not a bad player out there,” Meighan said. “Once you get to college, it all balances out. You could have a senior who was a two-star recruit and she’s the same as a four-star freshman. We all constantly stay at a high level.”

Zhong said a championship is well within the team’s grasp thanks to the players’ chemistry. She added that the team is constantly pushing each other to improve.

“I feel like we’re so much closer to getting the Patriot League Championship because Lehigh attracts really hard workers and people who love the game and want to win for each other,” Zhong said. “If you’re trying your best, that’ll make someone else try their best too. I want to bring that to the table.”

Short has faith in her rookie athletes. She said adding them to the team has only enhanced the culture it has worked to build.

“The addition of these three hardworking freshmen has been great because everyone has been willing to push each other past comfort levels during practice,” Short wrote in an email. “In the long run, I believe this will lead to a lot of improvement as a team.”

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