- School: UCLA
- Year Graduated: 2016
- Current Job: Professional tennis player (WTA Singles #263, Doubles #194)
Catherine “Cat” Harrison was born on April 9, 1994 in Memphis, Tennessee. She grew up in Germantown, Tennessee and chose to do online schooling in high school. She joined UCLA in the fall of 2012.
Cat had a successful junior career, leading her to be ranked #10 in her recruiting class going in to college. Additionally, her success on the ITF Junior Circuit had her ranked a career-high No. 104 in the ITF World Junior Rankings. She participated in the Junior Australian Open, Junior Wimbledon and The Junior U.S. Open. She reached the quarterfinals of doubles at the 2011 Junior US Open.
After her junior career she decided to play at UCLA, where she really developed and found her game. The results followed, as she ended up a 3x doubles All-American and a singles All-American her senior year. Her senior year, she was also named the ITA Southwest Region Senior Player of the Year and named to the PAC-12 First Team. Her biggest jump in results happened when she won the PAC-12 individual singles tournament. There, she beat the top players in the entire conference while she was playing #4 and #5 on her own team. She and partner Kyle McPhillips also reached the semifinals of the NCAA doubles tournament. She finished this year ranked number 5 in doubles. She and McPhillips finished the season ranked in the top 10 three straight seasons.
After playing at UCLA, Harrison began to play professionally. She has career high rankings of 256 in the world in singles and 186 in the world in doubles. I got to know Cat well in my time at UCLA and I love seeing her find success on the pro tour because she deserves it. She works her butt off and competes harder than anyone. I’m sure this is just the beginning, but it is impressive that she has achieved such high rankings after starting her college career in the bottom of UCLA’s lineup. That can be attributed to 2 things: there is a high level to be found in college tennis, and there is ample opportunity to improve. Hear what Cat has to say about her experience below… enjoy!
7 Questions With Catherine Harrison
#1) What was your recruiting/school selection process like?
My recruiting process was actually pretty abnormal. Playing professional tennis has always been my main goal, but both of my parents played college tennis, so it was important to me to follow in their footsteps before starting on tour. I started looking at schools and taking unofficial visits extremely early – my first one being at the end of my freshman year of high school. Essentially the only thing I was looking for in a school was a coach that could continue to develop me as a player.
Initially, I narrowed my search down to three schools (Duke, UVA, and Georgia Tech) and ultimately decided on Georgia Tech at the beginning of my junior year. Their coach had a reputation as one of the best in college, and had a successful pro career himself. But, 8 weeks before school began, he left to become the head men’s coach at the University of Florida – leaving me with a big decision. The only top-20 school with a scholarship open that late in the game was UCLA. I’d always loved the west coast, so in the three days after the GT coach left, I called Stella (UCLA Head Coach), flew to California to take my visit, fell in love with the school and signed my NLI.
#2) What was your favorite moment/story/aspect of college?
It’s hard to pick just one moment as my favorite about college, but winning the NCAA team championship in 2014 has to top the list. As a team we suffered some huge disappointments that season, losing 4-3 in the PAC12 conference final and in the finals of National Indoors (with multiple championship points in both – yikes). It really was a dream come true to be able to overcome a lot of doubt that had been created during the season and win in the biggest moment.
Also as an individual, another amazingly cool experience was winning the PAC12 singles title my junior year. Up until then I had played 5 on the team, and had never been ranked anywhere inside the top 60. That week, I had four top 20 wins and beat the number one players from Utah, Stanford, USC, Oregon, and Cal – setting me up to play number one my senior year, which had been the goal I’d written down before starting college. To see three years of work culminate with a title was so amazing, and it is still to this day one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever had.
#3) How did college tennis prepare you for the rest of your career/life?
My current job is a professional tennis player – right now I’m ranked 263 in singles and 194 in doubles. I’m sure this is a common theme echoed by former college players, but the biggest lesson I learned in school was how to juggle a crazy amount of responsibility without getting overwhelmed.
Although I’m getting close to the qualifying draw of grand slams, I’m still a ways away from having a full time manager to help me with my career. So, I’m solely responsible for booking flights to tournaments, making hotel reservations, making sure I’m watching entry & withdrawal deadlines on both the ITF & WTA platforms, all of my equipment, setting up practices, organizing fitness when I’m not traveling, finding sponsors – and this is everything I have to do before even thinking about how to win a match.
There’s no way I was mentally or emotionally prepared to manage all of this at 18, before I went to college. If I didn’t go through the experience of balancing the quarter system with tennis, a social life and being a part of several extra-curricular groups, I can say almost certainly I wouldn’t have survived even a couple months on the pro tour.
#4) A lot of juniors and parents worry that tennis will suffer because of the academic demands of college. What advice would you give an 18-year old in terms of balancing academics and tennis?
The best advice I can offer a player worried about tennis suffering in college is to choose the program with the coach you connect with the most. Balancing academics and tennis in college is a whole different ball game than in high school, and it’s important to be able to have someone built in that you can lean on when needed. Your college coach will dictate a lot of your life during school, so choose to play for someone who you think is interested in your holistic success, as opposed to someone only interested in how you can get wins for their team.
#5) Another thing we see parents worrying about is how the social component of college will affect their kids tennis. What would you tell an 18-year old going to college in regards to having fun without compromising their tennis/academics?
The best advice I can give in terms of balancing academics and tennis is to communicate – with coaches, professions, TAs, and whatever other support staff you have. As athletes we are extremely privileged to have a wide array of support staff – do not be too proud to use them. If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or you need advice on how to organize or study, it doesn’t do you any good to keep it to yourself and will only contribute to your anxiety.
I did a pretty terrible job at this my freshman year, and my tennis and social life suffered because I tried to balance everything on my own. If I had it to do over, I would have leaned on all of my support staff much more than I did, instead of being stubborn and thinking I could figure everything out on my own
#6) Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting college again today?
This will probably sound cliché, but if I were to start college again I would tell my younger self to enjoy every moment as much as I could. My first two years I was very much a perfectionist and not enjoying much at all – I was obsessed with getting the best grades and winning every match, and berated myself when either or both did not happen. I still had the mindset typical of a top junior – that everything was about me, if I was going out and having fun I wasn’t working hard enough, if I lost a match I wasn’t supposed to the world was ending, etc.
Luckily, the summer before my junior year, a good friend sat me down and pointed out that I was essentially wasting some of the best years of my life by worrying about inconsequential things that, in the long run, wouldn’t matter. This conversation ended up being the best thing that ever happened to my collegiate career, and completely opened my eyes to the idea of a less stressful, well-rounded college experience instead of the hyper-disciplined and stressful one I was currently living.
I actually started to let myself learn from losses instead of getting discouraged, go out with friends without feeling guilty, and be happy with the occasional B in a class. Not shockingly, less stress and perfectionism led to much better results, and my last two years were by far the best results I had on the court and the best times I had off the court.
#7) In your case, why did you think that college tennis was a good option as opposed to going directly to the pro tour?
For me, going to college before turning pro was always the path I wanted to take. I’m a pretty giant dork who really enjoys learning, and I did all of my high school online. I really wanted to get back in a classroom and learn in a traditional setting before turning pro, so going straight on tour from high school was never really a viable path for me. Like I mentioned earlier, I definitely wasn’t emotionally or physically prepared for the demands of the pro tour. Going to college taught me how to balance a lot of stress and responsibility at once, and definitely helps me to this day with my life on the pro tour.