Sept. 30, 2010
By Danny Harrington
Assistant Sports Information Director
As one of the top junior players in the country three years ago, McCall Jones had many of the top collegiate coaches in America vying for her services. The courtship became so intense, actually, that she thought it would be best to narrow her choices down to her two top schools: BYU and UCLA. So when Signing Day arrived in November of 2007 the Tesoro High School senior picked up the phone and made the call that few prep athletes look forward to making.
"I told my Mom that I didn't want to call her," says Jones of having to tell UCLA head coach Stella Sampras Webster that she was, in fact, headed to BYU. "I wanted to text her but my Mom said that I couldn't. It was so hard because I fell in love with both schools on my recruiting trips. I just felt that BYU was the better fit for me at that time."
So with her college choice out of the way, Jones headed to Provo, Utah in the fall of 2008, intent on having the same success in college that she enjoyed at the junior level. She flourished from the start, earning Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2009, finishing that year with a 20-12 overall singles record as the team's No. 1 player. She had an even better sophomore season, this time earning her conference's Player of the Year award. She ended that year ranked in the top 40 nationally in both singles and doubles, posting an undefeated record in Mountain West Conference matches.
But despite her individual success with the Cougars, Jones felt that a change of atmosphere would be best for her game. She realized that in order to raise her level on the court, she needed to compete against the best players on a regular basis, both at practice and in matches. It's what ultimately made her decide to leave Utah and reconsider what UCLA had to offer.
"As a whole, BYU is my ideal school," says Jones, who is Mormon and has had a number of close relatives attend the university, including her dad, sister and brother. "But I just wanted to be challenged more in tennis. I felt like there wasn't much more for me to achieve in my conference, and that's why I decided to leave."
But Jones' return to Southern California wasn't as smooth as expected. Her release to UCLA was soon followed with news that Bruins didn't have a scholarship to give. She explored other options, including Baylor, before getting a call from Sampras Webster that something had finally opened up.
"She called me but I heard the message wrong," remembers Jones. "I thought she said `As you know, we don't have a scholarship so we need to know what you're doing.' I couldn't get a hold of her so I called Rance (Brown) and he said, `Did you hear from Stella? We have a scholarship.' I made up my mind right then what I was going to do."
And although she missed out on her top recruit three years ago, Sampras Webster isn't focused on what might have been. She's excited that Jones is finally here, even if it's just for two seasons.
"We always thought she was a great player and a good fit for our program," says Sampras Webster, who is entering her 15th season as coach at UCLA. "I understood her decision to go to BYU, especially with her sister there and having so much family in the area. She has already accomplished so much at the college level that it's exciting to have her. I expect her to come in and challenge for one of the top spots in the lineup."
One of Jones' first activities with her new teammates was a recent retreat to nearby Lake Arrowhead. The annual trek focuses on team building exercises and serves as a way for the newcomers to form bonds with the returning players. It turned out to be a positive experience for her.
"I thought it was really good and it definitely helped me feel more comfortable around the team," she says. "I'm not a very shy person - I'm normally really outgoing - and I felt like I couldn't be myself until I got to know them better. That trip was a great opportunity to make everyone feel comfortable with one another. It was perfect."
Jones will get her first chance to represent the Bruins at the upcoming ITA/Riviera All-American Championships, Oct. 5-10 at the nearby Riviera Tennis Club. She is entered in the qualifying draws of both singles and doubles and hopes that it's just the start of what will be a very successful career at UCLA.
"I would love to become an All-American," says Jones, who was recently one of just 12 women named to the 2010 USTA Summer Collegiate Team. "And obviously it would be great to help the team win another title. That would be sweet."
UCLA is hosting the prequalifying event for the ITA/Riviera All-American Championships, Oct. 2-3 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. For more information about the event, please visit the ITA's Championship Central page.