It took only one visit to Lehigh for freshman Junmoke James to feel a connection with the members of the Lehigh women’s tennis team.
And those feelings proved to be mutual.
“We all remembered her funny jokes and big smile,” junior Catie Meighan said. “(James) is an open book. You never know what she is going to say or do, but no matter what, it will always come from her heart.”
James is one of the newest members of the Lehigh women’s tennis program, recruited to the team’s class of 2023.
An athlete with a decorated high school career, James came to Lehigh after achieving a top-10 ranking in the state of Georgia, and a top-50 placement in the entire southern region.
James grew up in Marietta, a suburb outside of Atlanta, and began playing tennis at a young age after her parents signed her up at a nearby clinic. From there, her passion for the sport took off, and her career followed suit.
“Once they realized that I liked it so much, my coach recommended that I start playing in tournaments,” James said.
At 8-years-old, James made it her mission to earn a college scholarship to play tennis. She later enrolled in a different academy that presented greater access to more consistent training.
During her recruitment visit to Lehigh, James said it felt like all of her hard work was beginning to come to fruition. And despite the heightened aggression and competition that comes with college play, James said she is more than happy to take on the challenge.
She said the greater demands provide an opportunity to become a more dynamic athlete.
“My opponents are definitely more consistent now,” James said. “So I have to be, too.”
Coach Sarah Short said James is adjusting to tennis at the college level. She recognized the transition from high school to college can be difficult for many young athletes, but said that James made it look seamless.
Short added that part of James’ value is derived from her ability to strike a balance between maintaining a level-headed mindset and being an intense competitor.
“She is a perfect fit for Lehigh,” Short said. “She is a great kid all around and works very hard.”
James’ teammates also noted that the Georgian is not one to shy away from a difficult opponent. James is only concerned with adding a win to the record, regardless of the age or talent of her opponents.
“She shows up to practice excited and ready to compete,” Meighan said. “When you watch (James) play upperclassmen, she shows no nerves. She always goes out on the courts playing to win and represents Lehigh well.”
James said she draws her inspiration from legendary players like Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.
Although she is unsure whether her tennis career will go beyond Lehigh, James said she is focused on helping the Mountain Hawks achieve success. She came to Lehigh to acquire a solid education, develop as a player and enjoy life as a student.
So far, James said she is following that plan.
“Out of all of the schools I visited, Lehigh has the best balance between sports and school,” she said.
The Mountain Hawks will compete at the Lehigh Invitational on Oct. 5-6 at the Ulrich Tennis Courts.