LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There was no question Ashley Jonathan possessed the game to compete at the college level, but the future Bellarmine University women’s tennis standout didn’t necessarily own the confidence.
While mulling whether to take that path or not in high school, Jonathan attended a family reunion and was approached by her uncle Gary, who sat down with her on the couch and offered his take, telling his niece, “It’s ultimately your choice, but I don’t know why you would waste a talent that God gave you.”
It was precisely the push that Jonathan needed.
“That is when I knew my decision was to play college tennis,” she recalled.
It’s most certainly worked out, as four-plus years and a bundle of accolades and program records later, Jonathan was voted Bellarmine Player of the Decade for Women’s Tennis in an online poll.
“It feels great to be named Player of the Decade,” Jonathan said. “I really am thankful for everyone who took the time to vote, and I am very honored to receive this award. It means to me that as a tennis player I made a profound impact on the Bellarmine women’s tennis team, Bellarmine and the surrounding community, and this is what I wanted out of my college career.”
She wanted it, and indeed she got it.
Jonathan, who still has one season of eligibility remaining, is a two-time All-Great Lakes Valley Conference selection. The native of Westfield, Indiana, has amassed 139 total victories in her career, which is only eight shy of program leader Maggie Walroth. Jonathan is just six doubles wins shy of Walroth (75 to 81) for the all-time mark, placements the two largely gained together — they are the winningest doubles team in program history with 57 victories as a duo. Jonathan is 14 singles wins shy of program leader Mairin Cotter (64 to 78).
Jonathan racked up 39 wins as a freshman, 30 as a junior and her 41 as a sophomore represents the program record for a single season. The product of Guerin Catholic (Ind.) High School was on pace to shatter her own mark as a senior after piling up 29 wins before GLVC play even started, but the remainder of the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Her hot start was in unison with that of the team, which was 9-0.
Per NCAA ruling, the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season did not count against players’ eligibility. Jonathan opted to return to the Knights even though she has taken on another formidable challenge after beginning Bellarmine’s rigorous physical therapy school. Inspired by big sister Lauren, Jonathan started playing tennis at age 6, and she’s not ready “to retire” just yet.
“I came back for another season because I wanted closure to the sport I love instead of it being taken away from me,” Jonathan said. “This fall season obviously hasn’t been what everyone would expect either due to COVID-19. It is the toughest demands I have put my mind and body through, but I am juggling both. I continue to learn in tennis and I am finding out new things about my game. I have also been doing well studying and learning in physical therapy school, and it makes me very excited to start my career in physical therapy.”
The most prestigious accolade Jonathan has earned in her career went beyond being acknowledged strictly for her play or academic standing (she was a 2020 GLVC Brother Gaffney Distinguished Scholar Award recipient for posting a 4.0 GPA). In May, Jonathan was honored by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association with the Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award for women’s tennis, which is presented to student-athletes who have exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and leadership, as well as scholastic, extracurricular and tennis achievements in ways that embody the legacy of tennis icon and humanitarian Arthur Ashe Jr.
“Ashley Jonathan is a profoundly caring humanitarian,” said John Mican, the recently retired and former longtime Bellarmine women’s tennis coach. “The concern she has for her fellow man is far reaching, especially for those less fortunate. The sportsmanship that Ashley displays on and off the court is what really sets her apart as a mature competitor who gives 100 percent at all times. Her leadership abilities are second to none and are a major factor in the success the team has achieved during her career.”
“When I think back upon receiving the Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award now, I have begun to realize how big this award truly is by letting it sink in,” Jonathan said. “To me, it is important that I think to myself that the deeper meaning behind receiving that award is service to others and trying to be the best that I can be every day and go that extra mile.”
Bellarmine was the GLVC East co-champion in 2018. That’s been a favorite team accomplishment of Jonathan, along with the Knights’ upset-filled surge to the 2019 GLVC Tournament finals.
“Everything about these experiences from the road trips, bonding, competing, but most of all, surprising everyone we could go that far,” Jonathan said. “I love that we are a small but very powerful team that took a ton of other teams by surprise, and we never lost without a fight.”
They’ll take that fight to a new stage this season, as Bellarmine has joined Division I and the ASUN Conference. Jonathan is ready for the enhanced challenge in her final go-around with the Knights.
“The move to Division I is definitely going to be a different level of competition for us, and it will take everyone to be on their ‘A’ game and mentally stable during our matches to succeed,” Jonathan said. “We are preparing the right way by staying focused and hitting each ball with a purpose during our practices.”
In other words, as her uncle Gary might say, they’re making the most of their God-given talent.
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