LAKEWOOD RANCH — Ashley Bongart is taking the college ranks by storm.
After spending the summer competing in a handful of USTA and College ITA tournaments across the region, the Lakewood Ranch High junior is drawing the attention of college coaches and athletes alike.
Bongart, who turned 16 years old a few months ago, has defeated players from Florida State University, Auburn University, the University of Tennessee and Furman University, as well as former The Out-of-Door Academy tennis player Caroline Dailey, who will play for the University of South Carolina this year.
Bongart also faired well against Auburn’s No. 2 singles player, before losing a close two-setter.
“This summer has gone really well,” Bongart says. “I’ve beaten a lot of girls who have been tough. I’ve been playing a lot of college tournaments, and I’ve beaten some of the girls already. So, I feel like I’m kind of there.
“I feel like when I play higher competition, I tend to step up more,” she says. “If I know (my opponent) does play in college, then I tend to play better because I rise to the occasion.”
Bongart made the decision to spend the summer traveling to different top-tier tournaments in the hopes of developing her game, particularly her serve, and becoming more explosive and aggressive on the court.
“College is coming up soon; I’m just trying to get better, so I get looked at by different colleges and get noticed,” Bongart says.
Bongart, who began training at the Lakewood Ranch Tennis Center when she was 8 years old, hits the court for an hour or two twice a day.
She spends time training with her coach, Chris Marquez, as well as her father, Ed, who also is her high school tennis coach.
“It’s good to have a variety,” Bongart says. “They both know what’s best for me, and Chris has helped develop me a lot.”
Additionally, Bongart often will hit the court with Dailey and Taylor Lederman, who recently signed with the University of Kentucky, for additional practice.
“I like to get with girls in the area who want to hit, because it gives me a chance to play different-style matches,” Bongart says.
With her junior year upon her, Bongart will spend the next few months training and competing in preparation for the upcoming high school season. She also plans to start competing in national and minor league professional tournaments.
“She’s established herself in Florida,” Marquez says. “Now, she needs to get out in that competitive field and develop her game. College tennis is a whole new ball game.”
Bongart, who captured Class 3A No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles titles this spring, has aspirations of playing Division I tennis for a nationally ranked program and becoming one of the top college players in the country.
Bongart has been a Florida Gators fan since she was a child, but she’s keeping her options open. Marquez has received positive feedback on Bongart from a number of college coaches, including from Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, the University of Mississippi and Georgia Tech, among others.
“Her upside is very high, and coaches see that,” Marquez says.
“It would mean a lot to play college tennis,” Bongart says. “That means that I’ve reached that level where every match you play will be tough because they are all good players. I’ll know I’m up there with the best.”
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
1 — The number of state titles Bongart has won.
4 — The number of district singles and doubles titles Bongart has won.
8 — The number of years Bongart has been training at the Lakewood Ranch Tennis Center.
12 — The number of USTA tournament matches Bongart won this summer.
42 — Bongart’s national ranking among girls in the class of 2015, according to tennisrecruiting.net.