Another Alberta junior tennis player is bound for college in the United States on full scholarship.  This is a dream come true for Ashley Nilsson, a grade 12 student at Vimy Ridge High School in Edmonton.

Ashley follows in the footsteps of other Alberta juniors, most recently Kirsten Pelle and Oscar Yang, who are in their first years at American colleges.  Her journey reflects depth of character and fearless ingenuity on the part of her and her family.

Ryan Schroffel, her coach while she was age 9- 15, had this to say about Ashley’s success:

  • “Ashley was always incredibly coachable and committed to her improvement.  She always enjoyed being on court with an infectious smile and positive attitude.  Ashley’s success is largely due to the hard work, dedication and resourcefulness she and her parents demonstrated throughout her junior career.  Ashley is a role model to any junior aspiring to receive a college scholarship and to maximize their potential.”
How did the dream come to be?

Ashley’s father introduced her to many sports at a young age.  Tennis quickly became her favorite:

“Tennis just clicked with me.  The skills came easily.  About half of my life has been dedicated to tennis.  I just enjoy it so much.  What I like best about tennis is that I am out there on my own.  I can be in my own bubble and don’t need to worry about anything else.”

It was so much of a passion that Ashley and her family commuted from Grande Prairie to take lessons with Ryan Schroffel at the Royal Glenora Club, beginning at age 9.  Ryan described Ashley’s dedication and the support of her parents:

  • “When Ashley first started training with me her parents would drive 5 hours from Grand Prairie to Edmonton every weekend to take part in our programming and private lessons.  She would go back to Grand Prairie at the end of her weekend and continue to work on her game with a ball machine they would use in an old skating rink.  One year I remember she missed out on qualifying for the U12 nationals in Calgary.  But that didn’t stop her from practicing.  She and her father took the snowblower to the outdoor tennis courts in Grand Prairie so she could continue her training.  This eventually led to her moving to Edmonton where she billeted with Sita Gourishankar and her family.  This was an incredibly difficult time for Ashley and her family but was necessary for her to continue her development.”   (Ryan Schroffel, Tennis Manager/Head Coach, Royal Glenora Club, Edmonton).

In Grade 10, after spending seven years with coach Ryan at the Royal Glenora Club, Ashley moved to the junior program at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton.  There she trains with other top juniors under coach Carson Bell.

What was the process for choosing a college and having the college choose her?

Ashley had been dreaming about going to an American school to study and play tennis on a scholarship for a long time.  So when she was in Grade 11 (2018) she went to work on realizing that dream.

As a first step she talked to other players and coaches who were familiar with the process.

Her recruitment video was ready by summer 2018.  You can see it on Youtube, and it is impressive!

Ashley also wrote her SAT exam (Standardized Aptitude Test), achieving a score that put her in contention for major academic scholarships.

Then she composed her email.  A website called  UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) is used worldwide including by U.S. colleges that offer tennis programs.  Using the UTR website, Ashley found the contact information for the head coaches and established her UTR rating.

She emailed her letter to 150 colleges with a link to her recruitment video.

About 30 schools responded to her email.  She researched each one to narrow the field to seven colleges based on her academic and tennis interests.  After talking to a few colleges by phone, she arranged a 2-day trip to Searcy Arkansas to meet coaches and tour the campus of Harding University.

A firm scholarship offer followed and she signed the official letter of intent on January 19, 2019.  As an international student her tuition is reduced by 50%, and with her SAT score she qualified for an academic scholarship.

Ashley’s Journey Continues

Harding University is located in the small town of Searcy, Arkansas, and has an enrollment of around 4,500 students. The university’s slogan, “Use Your Passion To Change The World” seems perfect for Ashley.   Ashley says that she is looking forward to small classes, meeting new people from around the world, travelling and playing tennis, and all of the new life experiences and personal growth that come with university life.   Her advice to others is:

  • “This is a doable option.  My email was key.  I had to make myself stand out.  I emphasized my story of commuting from Grande Prairie to Edmonton to be coached, then moving to Edmonton in Grade 8.  This showed my passion for the sport.  The emails that came back said that my story was  amazing.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions before you commit to a school.  Ask others who have gone to university in the U.S. about what questions to ask (such as questions to ask the coaches and what the scholarship covers).  The visit to the college is important too for making sure it is right for you.”

Ashley’s first day of university is August 19, 2019.  The long drive from Grande Prairie to Edmonton may become the much longer drive from Edmonton to Arkansas this summer for the Nilsson family.  It looks like a fairly direct route, 33 hours of driving, south and straight.

All the best Ashley.  Your story is indeed amazing and may your dream continue!

Photo below:  The Nilsson family. You may recognize Ashley’s Mom, Kathy, who also plays tennis at the Saville Centre.