Guam’s Katie Lai was recently named University Athletic Association (UAA) Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week for her performance against Amherst College, which is ranked 7th —three spots above her Carnegie Mellon University Tartans.
For Lai, a junior at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), this was the first time such a high honor was bestowed upon her.
“I am extremely proud to be honored by the UAA — to be recognized among my entire conference is a huge accomplishment,” Lai said.
Plagued with injuries during her freshman and sophomore years, Lai remembers the pain she endured during rehabilitation. The memories definitely dimmed a little thanks to the honor of being named Athlete of the Week, she said.
“After battling a shoulder and knee injury my freshman and sophomore years, respectively, it makes this recognition all the sweeter,” shared Lai.
Lai earned the honor by gutting it out for the 10th-ranked CMU Tartans in a grueling three-set match against seventh-ranked Amherst College. While playing in the no. 6 singles position, Lai had dropped the first set. She faced the challenge of having to come from behind to knock off her opponent 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.
Lai buckled down and fought hard through the second set tie break. “I knew it was time to buckle down and play smart in the tiebreaker to force a third set,” Lai said.
Having forced a third and decisive set, Lai broke her opponent at 4-4 and had a chance to serve for the match.
“Now serving for the match, I strategically chose my targets on my serves, stayed aggressive, and looked to finish points at the net. Thankfully, everything fell into place, and I closed out the match 6-4 in the third,” Lai said with a smile.
The win clinched the team’s first ever victory over Amherst, but she admits she didn’t know it at first.
“Amherst has always been a top team in the nation, so beating Amherst was a pretty big deal for our team,” she said. “It wasn’t until later that I learned it was the first time in program history that CMU has beaten Amherst,” said Lai.”
Growing up playing tennis and going to school on Guam, Lai is no stranger to receiving awards. Some of the accolades she earned include: winning the Northern Pacific Qualifier (NPQ); placing in the Pacific Oceania Junior Championship (POJC) in Fiji; and earning three gold medals for Guam in the 2014 Micronesian Games in Pohnpei.
Lai shared that playing tennis on Guam helped prepare her for having made the jump to the collegiate level.
“Once you’ve lasted a match in the middle of the day in Guam’s grueling hot summer you’re pretty much ready for anything,” said the college standout.
She was quick to thank the Guam National Tennis Federation (GNTF) for affording her all the opportunities to represent the island.
“I have to thank GNTF for giving me many opportunities to represent Guam and to play high-level tournaments all across Oceania — experiences that I’ve carried with me to collegiate,” Lai said.
While there have been so many people along the way who have helped Lai with her tennis career, Lai said none have been more instrumental in her achieving success than her parents, Sam Lai and Sandra Low.
“I really owe it all to my parents. From taking me to every tennis lesson, to driving (or flying) me to every tournament, to watching every single match I’ve played, to even spending hours analyzing my game with me,” Lai said.
She readily admits she wouldn’t be playing collegiate tennis if it hadn’t been for their unwavering support.
“Not every kid is lucky enough to have their mom or dad so invested in their hobbies, so I definitely don’t take them for granted,” she said.
Source: Weiss, M. (2017, April 1). Katie Lai wins college tennis award. https://www.postguam.com/sports/local/katie-lai-wins-college-tennis-award/article_10f4613c-15e1-11e7-b585-5befeef9fcc5.html