Men's Tennis
Freshman Eli Stephenson Making a Huge Impact on Men’s Tennis Team

Freshman Eli Stephenson Making a Huge Impact on Men’s Tennis Team

by Aliyah McDaniel

When considering his college choice, Eli Stephenson initially wanted to move away from home. However, as the process moved forward, he realized that Lexington was the place he felt comfortable. As a college decision neared, the coaches and athletes at Kentucky made the two-time Kentucky state champion feel special.

“Just being around this environment really made me want to come here,” he said. “Tate (Sandman), one of our captains this year, really showed me what Lexington was about, and really took me through the process of what it feels like to be a part of this team. And it was the same for the coaches too. I really connected with both Ced (Cedric Kauffman) and Matt (Matthew Gordon). They’re really great coaches.”

The Louisville native takes extra pride in being able to play for the flagship institution in his home state.

“Staying close to home is special,” Stephenson said. “Most of the matches I always have a lot of people from Louisville come. My family has been at most of, if not all my matches. So being close to and playing in front of them, and all the people who support me back home means the world to me. I grew up a Kentucky fan, so being able to play for this school now really means everything, and I’m just so grateful to be here.”

Though his choice for school was made easy, the transition has had its share of ups and downs, including an injury in the fall season.

“At Pepperdine, my third singles match and last match of the week, I tweaked my hip and after consulting with multiple doctors and specialists, it was a very low percentage that I’d play at the start of the season,” he recalled. “They said it would be a long recovery, but luckily my trainers and physio’s are the best, and I was back on the court in three months and 100% by four months. I was just extremely happy to be back playing on the court after my first major injury.”

His triumphs, however, have been a bright spot during his time here so far.

“The transition has been tough,” Stephenson said. “It’s been challenging. It’s been fun. It’s been rewarding. All of those things. From the beginning, I knew this was going to be tough. This team is really hard working. I came to a lot of matches last year so I kind of knew what to expect. But more than anything, I think it has been rewarding”.

He attributed that feeling to his teammates and coaches.

“Being a part of this team, and of this brotherhood, we all hold each other accountable. So far, this has just been an amazing experience,” he said.

The freshman has gone unbeaten in singles so far this season, including a match-clinching win over the Wildcats’ first ranked opponent of 2024, two-time defending champion Virginia. Additionally, many of his successes this season have been come-from-behind wins. He thanks his coaches and teammates for that too.

“Most of the credit goes to my coaches and teammates,” he said. “I wouldn’t have won these matches without them. I’ve been down in most of those matches actually, and it was advice that my coaches and teammates gave me during the match that helped me get through it and win it. It’s always special playing for other people, and not just myself. Those are the reasons I’ve managed to go undefeated”.

Off the court, he and his teammates share a bond like no other.

“My favorite thing about this team is how we can laugh and joke with each other,” he said. “Off the court, we don’t really take things too seriously. We’re all really competitive. We play lots of games together but when it gets on the court we’re all ready to battle. Otherwise, we’re laughing, joking and playing cards. We play board games, listen to music and study together. We’re always together and I just love that about this team.”

The Kentucky freshman is not only one of two undefeated singles’ players at UK, but he has also won SEC Freshman of the Week for two consecutive weeks.

It is safe to say this Bluegrass native is thriving and is glad he made Lexington his new Kentucky home.

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