Dakota Busch's first year as a scholarship tennis player for Division II University of Tampa came up all aces in the past college season.
Aces as in a lot of winning serves and shots on the court, where the former 2018 RIIL state singles champion from Westerly High was 7-3 at No. 6 singles and 13-10 at No. 1 doubles as a freshman. Also, she dealt aces in the classroom, where she made the Intercollegiate Athletics Association All-Academic team with a 3.8 grade point average as a student majoring in communications.
"I couldn't have asked for more in my freshman season," Busch said "There was an adjustment to college competition and the heat in Florida, but everything went as well as I could have expected."
As the only New England player on the roster, which included a number of Florida natives as well as international students from Europe, Busch proved quickly she could contribute as a doubles player as well as in singles. Strictly a singles player in high school, where she was one of Rhode Island's top players for four years, she earned a spot on the No. 1 doubles team at Tampa.
"Playing both doubles and singles in a match was an adjustment from high school, where you play one or the other," Busch said. "Conditioning and being in top shape was crucial to compete in both, especially in the spring where we had matches every other day. Doubles was just one set in college and took less than an hour most times, but then five minutes later you started your singles match."
The 5-foot-8 Busch saw all aspects of tennis during her dual role at Tampa. Doubles matches featured quick points, while she often played "backboard" singles players whose style favors longer volleys.
"The singles players I faced usually didn't try to hit winners early in a point," Busch said. "They were super consistent and hit everything back. There were quite a few longer matches in the Florida heat. I enjoyed the contrast in styles of playing singles and doubles, where we used a lot of formations and strategy. In high school it was all singles."
College tennis in the Sunshine State Conference includes a fall preseason of four invitationals and a regular season in the spring. Tampa's spring schedule included matches all over Florida as well as trips to Hawaii and San Francisco.
"What an opportunity it was to travel to these meets, free of charge of course, with the team," Busch said. "Hawaii was beautiful, and San Francisco is such an exciting city. Who knows if I will ever have the chance to visit each place again."
One of three freshman on Tampa, Busch showed enough ability to crack the singles lineup for half the Spartans' matches in addition to locking down a top doubles slot.
Tampa coach Al DuFaux felt Busch met all his expectations, establishing herself as a fixture as a major contributor.
"I have high hopes for Dakota for her sophomore year," the coach said in an email. "She has adjusted to the competitive level of tennis in college, especially Florida. Now she should accelerate and hold a first spot in the starting lineup. Academically, there is no reason that she shouldn't maintain her excellent grades and remain a scholar athlete."
And Busch, who said she hopes to land a job in broadcast journalism on television after college, looks to be on her way to making the news herself.