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I have just started my second year at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California. Last semester was my first full semester of college tennis over here and it was absolutely mental. I ended up with a winning record in both singles and doubles against some of the best division 3 schools in the country. Some people don’t really understand how the divisions work so I’ll break it down for you. Division 1 schools are often larger, have massive budgets allocated for athletics and have the crazy football games you see on TV. Not every division 1 school is like this, but many of them are. Then you have the division 2 schools which are like a not quite as huge version of the division 1 schools, they sponsor less sports and generally have less money than division 1 schools for Athletics. Division 3 is in its own little world. It is the largest division by quite some way in terms of numbers of schools and by committing to being division 3, a school is essentially saying that academics will take priority over athletics in most circumstances. Because of this, the NCAA imparts a bunch of rules and regulations such as limiting practice hours in the off season, to ensure that the athletes are not exploited and overworked. This ensures that their academics get the attention they need.
In terms of academic reputation, division 3 is home to 3 of the top 5 schools in the United States. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), California Institute of Technology, and Williams College (rated by Forbes as the number 1 school in the world). The athletic level of division 3 is often brushed off as being mediocre and I can ensure you that is not the case. My doubles partner had 3 ATP points before he came to my school, in short, the guy can play tennis pretty well. We have a school in our conference who are number 1 in the nation every single year, and they play against UCLA and compete extremely well although generally end up losing. UCLA is the number 1 school for division 1. Try not to be put off by the fact a school is division 3 because their academics and tennis are almost certainly better than many other schools on your list.
My school ended up being ranked 18 in the nation after a really poor ending to the season where, given certain results, could have finished inside the top 10. Alas, it was not meant to be and we had to settle for 4th place in our conference. My doubles partner and I finished the year being ranked 14th in the west region which I was stoked about for my first season.
Overall it was a really incredible tennis season for me and it was an environment I had never been a part of until then. It really is unique to anything we have in New Zealand in terms of the intensity and frequency of the matches. At the moment, we’re in the off season, and so aren’t practicing as much but we are building up for our first tournament in about 8 days which is the only pre- season tournament my school plays. After that it’ll be back to school, more tennis, and looking forward to New Zealand for Christmas!