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Tennis player Zoë Scandalis stands up for team and for teens

Junior bonds with middle schoolers

by Zach Levin
Zoe Scandalis 32nd Street School
Zoë Scandalis spends time with sixth graders at 32nd Street School. (Photo/USC Athletics)

Zoë Scandalis has been a dominant player on the tennis court and dedicated community member off it.

Even during her freshman season, it was evident that Scandalis‘ career as a Trojan would be special. After posting a 36-14 singles record and finishing ranked 11th in the country, Scandalis was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) “National Player to Watch,” an ITA All-American, a member of the U.S. Tennis Association Collegiate Team and an All-Pac-12 first team member.

This dominance continued into her sophomore season, as she was named to her second all-Pac-12 team. She finished her sophomore year ranked 24th in the country, and was primed to make a big splash during her junior season.

Yet no one could have predicted the extent to which Scandalis would have to step up for her team this year.

Scandalis steps up

Fellow Junior Sabrina Santamaria, the top USC women’s singles player, tore her ACL during a match against Texas earlier in March, ending her season. It was up to Scandalis to take over the No. 1 role and serve as a leader for her team.

Zoe Scandalis tennis

Zoë Scandalis is among the nation’s top-ranked collegiate women’s tennis players. (Photo/USC Athletics)

Scandalis has filled in exceptionally well in a season highlighted by a signature singles victory over 3rd-ranked Robin Anderson of UCLA. As of April, she’s ranked 25th in the nation in singles, and 6th in the nation in doubles with partner Giuliana Olmos. But Scandalis’ impact has stretched far beyond the court.

She’s maintained strong community involvement throughout the year by participating in outreach efforts like the Community Bowl, in which student-athletes mentor children and help beautify a local school, and Girls PLAY, which encourages middle school girls to stay active and believe in themselves.

Scandalis also has a particularly special relationship with a group of middle school girls at the 32nd Street School near USC, one of USC’s Family of Schools. She meets with a a dozen sixth graders every week. “They have such sweet personalities and most of them love sports,” Scandalis said, :so it’s been fun running around doing different games with them.”

Beyond  games, Scandalis makes sure to share life lessons. “I find it really important that they know their values,” she said, “whether they be loyalty, hard work or independence, and that they have a role model in mind to learn from. I hope in our lessons and through the things we write in the journals that they have a better idea of the person they want to become.”

Willing role model

Scandalis understands the unique opportunity for positive mentorship that she possesses as a USC athlete. “I feel like as student-athletes at USC we have the ability to get young kids to listen and look up to us. I realize that I might not always have this ability to make a difference in someone else’s life so I want to use my time here as a student-athlete the best I can. I see so much potential in these young girls, I hope to help inspire them to reach for their goals in anyway possible.”

The students attended her match against UCLA earlier this month. “I was touched to hear them all screaming and waving signs around,” she said. “I loved having them behind my court.”

Education is another important pillar of Scandalis’ mentorship. “I want to emphasize how getting schoolwork done and doing well in the classroom will allow them to go after what they want, both in athletics and other endeavors,” she said.

Even as Zoë Scandalis’ season heated up in March, she refused to miss a day with her group. It seems Scandalis possesses a unique ability to powerfully serve, both on and off the court.

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