The years of hard work, long hours and relentless dedication came together this week for Newport Beach senior Olivia Laws.
The 17-year-old signed her college letter of intent to attend and play tennis at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina Wednesday at her school, Capistrano Connections Academy in Aliso Viejo. Olivia received a $13,000 athletic scholarship — half of her tuition costs — to play tennis for the university.
"It was just such a happy day for me," she said. "It means a lot to me. The scholarship just reflects on all my hard work over the past years … I'm just so happy to achieve that goal."
A nationally ranked tennis player, Olivia left Corona del Mar High School halfway through her junior year for Capistrano Connections Academy, a tuition-free, accredited virtual K-12 public school that gave her the flexibility to keep up with her academic work from airports or hotel rooms while she traveled for tournaments.
Olivia has won four United States Tennis Assn. tournaments in the single division category and two doubles champion titles, and was crowned the women's finalist in 10th annual Queen of Hearts Charity Tournament in Newport Beach.
"I choose virtual education because it allows me to balance my studies, training and tennis tournaments," she said.
Olivia didn't start playing tennis until she was about 13, when she decided to try a tennis camp at CdM. She said it was exciting and fun that first day, and when she's on the court, she also feels happy and relaxed — like nothing else exists.
"The first day I picked up a racket, I knew this was my passion," she said.
Starting tennis at 13, though, meant she was years behind her peers. Still, she never felt discouraged and never stopped working on her game.
"I just do what I can with what I have," she said.
The instant connection Olivia felt with tennis, she also felt about Queens University of Charlotte after looking at its website. Her initial instincts were reinforced when she talked to the tennis coaches and athletes on the team. She was also impressed by the academics and plans to major in pre-law.
Olivia said she thinks the university can help take her game up to the next level, and she's ready for the commitment and dedication it's going to take to get there.
"I would really love to have the chance to play on a pro tour," she said.