From The Daily: The Joyce Ardies Story

Feb. 8, 2010

By Taylor Soper
The UW Daily

Senior Joyce Ardies was living her dream.

After starting tennis in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at age 8, competing all over South America and living in Belgium for one year, the Brazil native finally arrived at Tulane University in 2005 to do what she always wanted to do: play college tennis.

And then came Hurricane Katrina.

Just two days after she arrived, the Tulane women's tennis head coach told Ardies and three other freshmen -- two of whom were also international students -- to pack a bag and get on a bus to Mississippi.

So after sleeping in a gymnasium in Jackson, Miss., and traveling with the Tulane women's soccer team in Alabama, the four freshmen finally ended up at Texas A&M. Ardies spent an entire semester there because Tulane closed the university after Hurricane Katrina hit.

'We started the quarter two-to-three weeks later than the other students,' said Ardies, who was still learning English at the time. 'It was a catch-up time and very stressful.'

Ardies returned to Tulane for second semester, from January until May. While nearly every Tulane player stopped playing tennis, Ardies and senior Jenny Kuehn would practice three-to-four times per week to stay on top of their game.

'I used to call her `Mommy,'' Ardies said with a laugh. 'She really was my mentor and helped me tremendously. We really bonded together.'

Despite the efforts of Ardies and her Tulane teammates to raise money for the program, the university decided to cut tennis at the end of the year.

Then Ardies faced one of the biggest decisions of her life.

'They offered for me to stay on a four-year scholarship, not having to play tennis,' she explained. 'It was the first time I had to stop and think: Do I really want to keep playing tennis, or should I use this opportunity to dedicate my full time to academics?'

Ardies knew what it would be like to become a full-time student without tennis.

'I took piano classes, I took 18 semester credits. I was busy,' Ardies said. 'But I really missed tennis.

'I think Katrina made me realize, if I had any doubts at that point, it was clear to me that I still needed tennis. That part of my life, I still needed. It's part of who I am and I really wanted to compete as well.'

While Kuehn would go on to play at Michigan, Ardies took a recruiting trip to Seattle. There, with two days of sunshine and 80-degree weather, she met current women's tennis head coach Jill Hultquist, who had just inherited former head coach Patty McCain's team.

'You could just tell, she was a good young lady and had a lot of good qualities,' Hultquist said. 'That was what I was looking for to start rebuilding the program.'

So Ardies packed up and came to the UW to begin a four-year tenure that was better than she could have ever imagined.

A LEADER FROM THE BEGINNING

It's rare for a tennis player - or any collegiate athlete - to be a captain all four years. But Ardies managed to do just that at the UW.

Her impact was felt the moment she stepped on campus and Hultquist saw something special in her Brazilian transfer. After hearing Ardies' story about being evacuated, changing schools, and all the while still managing to practice tennis, Hultquist was convinced.

'When someone is that self-motivated, that's a really good quality,' said Hultquist, who is now in her fifth year as head coach. 'Joyce had amazing leadership qualities.'

While Ardies was appointed team captain her freshman year, starting at the UW was anything but easy. During the first year, Ardies and her team spent a majority of the season in the cellar of the Pac-10, as wins were hard to come by.

'I knew it would be challenging,' Ardies said. 'It was a year that we were trying to trust the message that if you keep doing the right things, we will attract the right people to our program and our core values will stand out.'

Many times during her freshman year, the team would only have six players during some matches, and despite being injured, Ardies had to gut it out and compete. This wasn't the first time the then-freshman had faced adversity.

'It was the same thing,' said Ardies, referring to her experience with Hurricane Katrina. 'My experience with Katrina helped a lot. When I arrived [at the UW], we didn't really have the best circumstances, but I didn't walk away. You've got to confront it and move on. I remember playing in a lot of pain and knowing that we weren't going to win as a team, but you still had to do your best.'

As time went on, the mindset Ardies and Hultquist implemented began working. Soon enough, players like junior Venise Chan (ranked 11th) and sophomore Denise Dy (ranked 3rd) would sign with the UW.

And now, the Huskies are ranked 23rd in the nation and have their sights set to return to the NCAA Championships, where they advanced all the way to the Sweet 16 last year.

As the oldest player on the team, Ardies has taken on a different leadership role than that of her freshman year. This year, she wants to 'get everyone on board' and make sure every player has the same goals. She implemented a team committee board; every player has a designated role on the team, such as marketing- or community-service chair.

During the past four years as team captain, Ardies has learned a lot about leadership and communication, something her co-captain takes note of.

'She is a person that makes everyone hold themselves accountable for what they need to do, for themselves and the team,' Dy said. 'The team unity is strong because she helps us understand ourselves and others.'

The Sao Paulo native doesn't just show leadership off the court. Her coach says Ardies is a 'natural leader,' and while she isn't always the best technique-wise, the inner fire is there every time she takes the court.

'Off the court, she's got this great charisma,' Hultquist said. 'But when she's on the court, she has this fire in her eyes. She loves the battle and the competition.'

As Ardies enters her final year as captain, she finds herself in a much different situation from when she first came to Seattle. Being the oldest teammate has its perks, but her fellow Huskies aren't quite as nice as far as nicknames go.

'They don't call me Mommy, they call me Grandma,' Ardies laughed. 'They're not as nice.'

Grandma or not, the impact Ardies has had on the tennis program is hard to ignore. She still has the 2010 season to build on what she and Hultquist started four years ago.

'In the beginning, we were the underdogs,' Ardies said. 'As we progressed, the team got better and we were doing the right things. Now, we have a lot to defend, and we still want more. It's amazing -- that is the reward for the hard work over many years.'

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