How Texas women’s tennis signed nation’s top recruiting class

Nathan Han

At the start of the spring 2019 season, women’s tennis head coach Howard Joffe began looking ahead to the next season. Joffe knew his recruiting class for the 2020-21 season would be crucial for the program, with seniors Anna and Bianca Turati, two of the winningest players in program history, scheduled to graduate in 2020.

“We knew we had four spots to fill, so it was a really important recruiting year for our program,” Joffe said. “Before coronavirus, we thought we’d have to replace the Turatis, and we knew we needed good players to fill in that gap.”

Joffe and his staff delivered, signing the country’s No. 1 recruiting class in 2020, with three top 10 recruits in Charlotte Chavatipon, Malaika Rapolu and Peyton Stearns filling out Texas’ first top 25 recruiting class since 2012.

“Over the four or five years since I started at Texas, the team has steadily gotten better,” Joffe said. “And as a consequence of the team doing better, we’re able to attract high-level recruits.”

Chavatipon was the first of the three to sign with the Longhorns in November 2019, shortly after playing in the H-E-B Women’s Pro Tennis Open held at the Texas Tennis Center.

“I felt the vibe was right,” Chavatipon said in a November 2019 press release. “I felt this was where I could further develop my career in tennis."

Joffe said Chavatipon is already playing at a high level, which was clear when she faced Bianca in a singles match in the pro tournament on campus. Then a high school senior, she jumped out to an early lead before eventually falling to the Texas veteran.

At the same event, Rapolu caught Joffe’s eye when he watched her passionate response to losing a close match. The Cedar Park, Texas, native was already on UT’s radar as a junior at the time, so when she reclassified to the class of 2020, Joffe was ready to have her on board.

“I remember really clearly the look on Malaika’s face after she lost that match, the disappointment, the sadness,” Joffe said. “It was just so palpable. It showed me that this is someone who just cares so much.”

Ranked as the top incoming freshman in the nation via the Universal Tennis Rating system, Stearns rounded out the freshman class as another player who figures to jump in quickly at a high level.

Pro events played a factor in Stearns’ recruitment, in addition to the friendships she developed with both Turatis playing in the same tournaments.

“She actually developed a rapport with them,” Joffe said. “Both Turatis were enamored with how gifted and excellent Peyton was, and Peyton had a healthy respect for them as competitors.”

Stearns said seeing Bianca and Anna play in those pro tournaments while at Texas contributed to her decision to choose Texas over other schools.

“They will bring me to at least seven pro tournaments, and I trust them,” Stearns said to the Tennis Recruiting Network. “Some other schools say they will, but I have never seen their players play that many. That was huge for me."

Even with the uncertainty of the upcoming season ahead, Joffe said Texas has a new group of players that will play a big role for years to come. 

“These kids will be the backbone of the program,” Joffe said.