Family ties bring freshman women's tennis recruit to Texas

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Texas Athletics

Peyton Stearns was one of the most sought-after tennis recruits during the 2020 recruiting cycle, but family ties to the University helped lead her to Texas.

The freshman hails from Mason, Ohio, but her mother Denise Stearns is a UT graduate.

“When I was being recruited, deep down, I think she really wanted me to go to Texas, but she did her best not to show it,” Peyton said. “When I chose Texas, I think she was really happy, but she definitely didn’t try to influence me in any way. She wanted it to be my choice.” 

Although Texas holds a special place in Denise’s heart, she knew that the decision to go to her alma mater was Peyton’s. 

“I love UT, and I loved UT when I went there, but I want my kids to make their own choices,” Denise said. “I’ve tried to stress to her, and she got it, that you go where people care and where you’re going to get the best out of it. Not a facility but more the people there.”

Denise feels comfortable with the environment that head coach Howard Joffe has created at Texas because she saw it firsthand. She can recall tournaments where she was impressed by Joffe and his coaching style. 

 

When Peyton signed with Texas, Joffe understood what a momentous occasion it was for the program.

“Not only is Peyton one of the top recruits in the nation, but the way she handles herself, her values and her drive embody everything that Texas Athletics is about,” Joffe said. 

Peyton’s performance at the ITF Tyler 80k Tournament now has her ranked No. 463 in the World Tennis Association rankings, which is the highest rank she has held in her career.

However, she is adjusting like every other freshman at UT, having to make choices by herself like she did when choosing colleges.

“I have to make my own decisions throughout most of my day,” Peyton said. “That’s really been the biggest change for me coming here, but it’s definitely made me more independent, which is a good thing.” 

Peyton has found a home in Austin surrounded by encouraging teammates who are ready to cheer her on.

“COVID has definitely put a limit on a lot of things but the team is awesome,” Peyton said “I got really lucky coming here. The whole team is supportive.”

Denise said she is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see her daughter compete for Texas in person.

“I can’t wait to go down and watch her play a match,” Denise said. “That’s the best part of college tennis is the screaming and yelling. I’ll be the soccer mom, the loudest one out there.” 

One of the biggest differences between competing at the collegiate level for Peyton is playing for something more than herself. 

“You have more than just yourself on the line. It’s your whole team,” Peyton said. “Honestly, I think it kind of kicks that extra gear in the back of your mind.”

Even though Denise is a Texas graduate, Peyton is looking to leave a lasting legacy on a University that now has an even deeper meaning in her family.

“I’m planning on playing professionally, but while I’m here at Texas I want to represent, (and) I want to win for the team,” Peyton said. “In the spring, we are going to be getting some really good players in and honestly, I think we can win this thing.”