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At the end of 2021, Universal Tennis introduced the Collegiate Ambassador Program with four signees for 2022. Along with Tristan Boyer, Carolyn Ansari, and Taylor Johnson, the new program features Peyton Stearns (UTR Rating 11.60), a University of Texas sophomore on track for a pro career.
The 20-year-old is a huge asset on the Longhorns team with an ITA ranking of No. 4, a PTT ranking of No. 261, an NCAA team title under her belt, and a 9-1 start to the 2022 season.
Universal Tennis is not her first partnership as Stearns has taken advantage of the NCAA Name, Image, and Likeness changes to make deals with Liquid IV, Southern Tide, and Rowing Blazers.
"It's nice to have your foot in the door with some of these brands,” Stearns said. “Once I do leave
A Young Leader
Stearns got her collegiate career started off at the top: As a freshman, she led the Texas Longhorns at the No. 1 position all the way to the NCAA Championship title in 2021. It marked the tennis program’s third NCAA team trophy and first since 1995.
“It was crazy,” Stearns said. “During the season, it just didn't really click how good we were. After the season, we realized we went from January to May only losing one match.”
The team vibed off each other really well — led by Stearns and three seniors, they put together a 31-1 record and beat Pepperdine in a dramatic 4-3 NCAA Championship final.
“We were just inseparable,” Stearns said. “With COVID, we'd always hang out with each other and we all just meshed really well. I think that's why we did so well too: We wanted to win for each other more than ourselves. Hopefully, that dynamic is here this year, too."
Playing at No. 1 on a college team was part of the Ohio native’s goal from the very start, long before she stepped foot on campus in Austin. She had to earn it by putting in hard work, showing discipline, and performing well.
“I wanted to play No. 1. If you want those really good matches against other schools you want to play No. 1,” she said. "I broadcast that to the coaches when I was being recruited. At the end of the day, it worked out.”
Focused From the Beginning
Stearns started taking tennis seriously at the age of 11, realizing she was good enough for a possible pro career by 16. With pro tennis top of mind, she chose the University of Texas for the program’s flexibility.
“They aligned with my goals,” she said. “The coaches were allowing me to go play pro events and I knew other players were traveling as well for pro events during college. And they produced a lot of good players.”
College tennis has always been in her sights (assuming she didn’t crack the Top 50 as a teen). Coming in with pro goals in mind is more common now, but not for everyone. Any worries that her teammates would treat her differently for making decisions like using the fall seasons to play pro events were erased.
Some assumed she’d have tunnel vision with eyes only for tennis, homework, and fitness, but quickly learned she’s down to earth and likes to have fun, too.
“I'm human,” she said. "I'm not going play tennis 24 hours a day. I had that respect going in before I even got here and the team was really happy I was there."
A Busy WTA Debut
Just a few weeks after capturing the 2021 NCAA team title, Stearns won her first pro title at the ITF W25K in Sumter, S.C. During the rest of the year, she got a taste of the WTA Tour by playing in the qualifying draws of Cincinnati, the US Open, a W125K in Columbus, and Indian Wells, all with the help of wild cards.
Getting to compete at such a high level was new but she learned a lot and was lucky enough to earn a few chances to compete.
“The nerves are there a lot,” she said. “Playing those events back-to-back, I think by Indian Wells, I finally got an understanding of the WTA and how it works. I got more familiar with everyone and with what was going on. I finally planted my feet.”
Even though she may turn pro before her four years are up, her time at Texas has already proven very rewarding.
“It has helped me on my own tennis,” Stearns said. “As a junior, your parents and coaches are taking over everything. At school, you have to be on it. You have to make decisions, not someone else. I've become more mature on the court and as a person.
"Just dealing with stress and pressure playing No. 1 as a freshman a lot is expected of you. When I play these pro events, I know better how to handle it.”
Only Upswing Ahead
Stearns spent the 2021 winter break in Orlando putting in a training block ahead of her second dual season at Texas. She has lost just one dual match so far and the Longhorns are ranked No. 5 in the nation.
Her focus is entirely on the team until the time for another pro opportunity comes around.
“We have a whole new team this year so it may go a whole different route,” she said. “But the end goal is still the same.”