Lauralei Singsank initially perceived pickleball as a pastime for an older demographic, even older than her pickleball-loving parents, who were in their 50s!
However, the sport and Singsank’s perspective have evolved significantly since then, and Singsank recently hit the winning shot for the University of Virginia (UVA) Pickleball Club at the DUPR Collegiate National Championship, securing victory, the trophy, and a $15,000 prize for her team.
Singsank, while initially hesitant about pickleball, reignited her interest during the pandemic lockdown in 2020, playing regularly in Maui, Hawaii.
She remembers with a laugh how the Hawaiian government post she had in the summer of 2022 brought with it quite strict rules about finishing at 4:30 p.m.
“They’d kick you out of the office — you weren’t allowed to work past that. I didn’t really have anything to do with my time, so I just started playing pickleball every day after work.”
Taking It Up A Notch
Her participation intensified even further upon returning to North Grounds, Virginia, for law studies. Despite a rigorous academic journey, Singsank actively engaged in various roles within the Law School, excelling academically and contributing to multiple associations.
She also wanted to up her pickleballing game so she used to make a two-hour journey to Pouncey Tract Park at Glen Allen a few times a week so she could play against higher-level players.
Joining UVA’s pickleball club in its inaugural year, Singsank witnessed its transformation from casual play to serious competition, culminating in practice sessions at the Snyder Tennis Center.
The club’s commitment paid off as they progressed to national championships, where Singsank’s match-winning shot secured the title against strong competitors.
The club had competed in various tournaments during 2022 but fallen short of reaching the top playoffs.
During the spring of 2023, club members achieved semifinal berths in both women’s doubles and singles at the individual national championships.
In mid-November, UVA dispatched 23 students to participate in the collegiate team nationals in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. Of these players, only five, including Singsank, officially represented the school’s club in the team format.
In contrast, others, like fellow UVA Law student Graham Buck ’24, took part in the individual competition of the championship.
For the team tournament, schools fielded four to six participants, comprising at least two men and two women, engaging in men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and two rounds of mixed doubles. The overall score determined the victorious team, with tie-breaking games played between the top two scoring teams if required.
Despite entering as the fifth-seeded team and considered underdogs, UVA garnered significant support from a vibrant crowd during the team tournament.
Leveraging their strengths and a well-executed rotation strategy, they defeated the top three seeds — Utah Tech University, the University of North Carolina, and Texas Christian University — along with Virginia Tech, en route to securing the championship.
“It felt really good to get to show that we’re better than all three of the [top] teams,” Singsank remarked.
The Decisive Shot
During the critical tie-breaking match against UNC, UVA trailed 16-20 before staging a remarkable comeback, leveling the game. Singsank then delivered the decisive shot, securing a thrilling 23-21 victory that concluded the match.
The sensation of clinching the national title was, in Singsank’s words, “absolutely unreal.”
While the team had hoped for this triumph, they didn’t necessarily anticipate it, especially considering UNC’s victory the previous year and their inclusion of a professional player ranked among the top 10 male singles players globally.
Indianapolis In January
In recognition of their achievement, the UVA club received $15,000 as prize money for their first-place finish, with a portion allocated to the organization and the remaining $10,000 divided among the five players.
Looking ahead, the club’s upcoming team tournament is scheduled for January in Indianapolis, coinciding with the commencement of Singsank’s final semester of law school.
Reflecting on her future, Singsank intends to pursue public interest law after graduating but plans to balance her legal career with pickleball.
While she acknowledges the potential for a professional pickleball career, she values it more as a hobby, providing a respite from her professional endeavors. Nonetheless, she encourages others to explore the sport’s accessible and inclusive nature.
Looking ahead, UVA’s pickleball club prepares for upcoming tryouts, carrying the momentum of their recent triumph into future tournaments.
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