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Mr. Ashley Dixon Rhoney

226 Elysian Fields Drive
Lafayette, Louisiana 70508

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Rhoney thrives on challenges

Curtis Hollinger
Guest Columnist

He is from Hickory, N.C. - not exactly the place where tennis talent abounds.

He picked up his first tennis racquet (a wooden Spaulding racquet) at age 11 - relatively late in tennis years.

He had his first tennis lesson at age 13 - a far cry from many youth in local tennis programs.

Yet, despite his humble tennis background, City Club Director of Tennis and Swimming Ashley Rhoney developed into one of America's best junior and college tennis players.

He seeks to bring a little bit of the Hickory tennis experience to Lafayette so other youths can reach greater heights in their lives and tennis careers.

To appreciate where Rhoney is today and where he intends to be in the future, one must understand his past and recognize how his highly targeted mental focus contributed to his tennis achievements.

You see, when he first began playing tennis, Rhoney was last on his team of 11 players and ranked behind two girls. Now the fact that girls on his school team initially beat him is not necessarily all that embarrassing, except that these girls were not exactly of Chanda Rubin's caliber.

But in a very short time and after hitting balls everyday against his garage, he rose to No. 6 on his elementary school tennis team. Rhoney credits his local community center with providing him the opportunity to discover his passion to compete and meet challenges.

After a year of daily walks from his home to the Hickory Foundation Center, Rhoney became the No. 1 player on the city's youth tennis ladder.Yet he was still laughed at by a tennis parent when he predicted he would be the state's best junior tennis player.

A couple of years later, he became North Carolina's No. 1 ranked junior in his age division. The rest is history.

At 14, he drove an hour and a half every weekend to train with Woody Blocker. Although coach Blocker described his game as "the ugliest" among his students, Rhoney was by far the toughest player in the group.

Under Blocker, Rhoney became an elite junior player in the South, attaining a Southern junior ranking as high as No. 4. He won two North Carolina high school state championship titles and came within one win of sharing North Carolina tennis history with John Lucas as a three-time high school state champion.

In his very first national junior tournament, he defeated ESPN tennis commentator and grand slam doubles champion Luke Jensen.

He went on to win the Southern 18's championship and won a national junior championship event defeating Al Parker, who is considered America's greatest junior tennis player in history.

Dreams of playing on the grass at Wimbledon, the red clay in Paris and the hardcourt at Flushing Meadows became reality to Rhoney.

As a freshman at then-USL, Rhoney continued experiencing success at the highest level - winning a national college tennis tournament. Because of his obvious maturity, head coach Gary Albertine positioned him as the de facto team captain for his entire college career.

As a junior, he and doubles partner Brett Garnett captured the prestigious Volvo All-American Doubles Championships in Los Angeles in their quest to becoming All-America tennis players.

Although an All-American, Rhoney begins to view life a bit differently than he had a few years earlier. I guess being married with a child on the way while in college may have had an affect on his perspective on life.

As a senior in college and after playing on teams that just barely missed participating in the NCAA team tournament, Rhoney focused himself to lead the USL team to its highest ranking in school history (No. 11) , a team victory over powerhouse UCLA (then ranked No. 6 in Div. I) and an eventual invitation and first round victory at the NCAA team championships in Athens, Ga.

Rhoney went on to earn a world professional singles ranking in the Top 600 and a world professional doubles ranking in the Top 400.

He is a USPTR certified tennis instructor who for 7 years successfully coached Rubin.

He has participated in every major tennis tournament in the world, either as a player or coach, and he is extremely proud of his record of coaching at least 17 junior tennis players who earned college tennis scholarships at some of America's premiere women's college tennis programs.

Although his coaching schedule has reduced as he transitions into club administration and management, he maintains his focus on providing youths with opportunities to experience many of the benefits tennis offers. The most ambitious of his projects to date is the creation of a year-long competitive youth city tennis league similar to the Hickory, N.C., program that inspired him to take up tennis seriously.

Rhoney envisions a day when tennis players in Lafayette will be able to play for a team near their neighborhood and compete against other neighborhood teams from across the city.

He has joined forces with the USTA and has successfully secured private financial support to fund neighborhood tennis programs that hopefully will grow into a thriving competitive youth city tennis league similar to the USTA adult league model.

He seems to be aware that society today in Lafayette is drastically different from the lifestyle he was accustomed to in Hickory, N.C. He acknowledges the ubiquitous presence of technology, parents' desires to involve their children in multiple extracurricular activities and the success of other youth team sports presents formidable challenges to the viability of a competitive junior tennis league in Lafayette.

He also realizes that not many young tennis players today seem to have the determination to practice their tennis skills alone for hours as he did as a child.

However, these factors do not discourage Rhoney from pursuing his goal. I am sure that Rhoney is focused on seeing long-term, competitive, community-based tennis a reality in Lafayette.

Judging by his history, Rhoney thrives on challenges and usually comes out way ahead in the end.

In this case, the youths of Lafayette will benefit greatly by Rhoney's efforts and influence, and who knows, a child may discover how important and beneficial it is to be focused like Rhoney.

Originally published July 5, 2005
Tennis- (M&W):  1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988