Peyton Stearns, 2022 NCAA singles champion, embarks on professional career after Texas

Tori Garcia, Sports Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the July 12, 2022 flipbook.

With the crowd enthusiastically cheering as Texas’ Peyton Stearns pumped her fist vibrantly in celebration, the ball bounced on the opposing court side one final time. After shaking Stanford’s Connie Ma’s hand, Stearns embraced her coaching staff with a hug. Stearns was now an NCAA singles national champion.

The next day, Stearns announced her decision to turn fully professional and take her career to the next level, making a lifelong dream of hers a reality.

“First, I need to thank everyone at The University of Texas who I had the opportunity to be with during my time there,” Stearns said on Twitter on June 3. “No words can describe how much the team and staff have impacted my life for the better.”

While the tweet was her official announcement, Stearns actually made up her mind about going professional in January, keeping her choice under wraps during the season. 

“I kind of matured as a player,” Stearns said. “I was playing really well, and I felt like it was time for me to go and really prove (that) during the season with my decision.”

During her two-year career at Texas, Stearns assembled an overall record of 51-10 in singles and a 42-17 mark in doubles. She was key to back-to-back Big 12 and NCAA team championships for the Longhorns and was a three time ITA Singles All-American. During her freshman year, she was named Big 12 Championship Most Outstanding Player, Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Big 12 Regular Season Team Champion. 

Stearns finished her sophomore and final year at Texas by becoming the first woman in program history to capture an NCAA singles national championship with her victory over Ma on May 28.

Winning both the team and individual titles gave her the belief that she made the correct decision to turn pro. But when it came time to actually announce it and enter the professional world on her own, doing so was nerve wracking, Stearns said.

“I’m no longer on a team now, which is really weird,” Stearns said. “During season or even not during season you are surrounded by all the girls. You are kind of a family, and now I’m no longer around all of them. … I don’t have the school behind me anymore like I did, but (I) also (feel) excitement to see what I can do and what I will do.”

Since turning fully professional, Stearns has played three singles and two doubles ITF tournaments. Stearns and junior Kylie Collins defeated sophomore twins Allura and Maribella Zamarripa in an all-Longhorns final in Sumpter, South Carolina in June. In singles play, Stearns advanced to a final in Columbus, Ohio in July but fell to American Katrina Scott. Because of her individual NCAA singles title, Stearns will receive a wild card slot for the US Open at the end of August the biggest stage yet for the young professional.

“If I play on a big court or get a win in the first round, that attracts a lot of sponsors and a following behind your name, and that could really kick start my career,” Stearns said. 

Around age 12, Stearns discovered her first love was tennis, specifically Texas tennis, as the daughter of Texas alumnus Denise Stearns. Peyton’s mom was very hands-on during her recruitment, but Denise wanted to make sure that her daughter could make the choice on her own.

She wanted me to go to a program that would really treat me like a person and not just another athlete,” Stearns said. “Find a place where you feel comfortable, confident to go to and (where) they’re not just going to treat you like a number or a tennis player, and they are actually going to care about your well-being off court.”

Despite being given full freedom in choosing where to continue her college career, Stearns couldn’t resist her roots and committed to Texas.  

Being the top recruit in the nation two years ago placed plenty of pressure and high expectations on her to live up to that ranking, but her illustrious Texas career, even just two years long, will leave Stearns with a lasting legacy as one of the best players to come through the program.  

“It’s truly hard to believe that Peyton’s accomplishments on the Forty Acres have considerably outweighed the hype associated with her recruitment,” head coach Howard Joffe said. “Her impact is unparalleled in the annals of Texas Women’s Tennis history. … Anyone with a pulse will be rooting for Peyton Stearns to rise to the top in her pro career.”