The land up north is known for maple leaves, cold weather, Canadian bacon and hockey. For University of Utah senior tennis player, Jena Cheng, Canada is known as home. It’s where she grew up, where she paved her own path to success and where she made the decision to be a part of a Pac-12 University.
Growing up in Canada wasn’t the ideal for Cheng when it came to playing tennis. In Canada, the focus is on hockey. Sports in high school are not emphasized, and sports at a collegiate level are nearly non-existent. Most everything is focused on academics, but Cheng discovered her love for tennis when she was young, and she never let it go.
“I was five years old when I started playing,” Cheng said. “My parents happened to sign me up for a camp, and I fell in love with it. I also played soccer, swam and figure skated, but I didn’t find a love for those sports like I did with tennis. I liked that I could get out, get exercise and have fun.”
With tennis not being a high school sport, Cheng had to practice her skills all on her own. She signed up for various amounts of camps and leagues, and she continued to improve. Cheng found indoor courts when the weather was bad, and she continually worked on her game throughout the year.
As Cheng continued to improve and practice, she found herself placing third at the U16 and U18 Junior National Championships in 2014. She eventually found herself as the No. 1 ranked women’s tennis player in Alberta.
“Because she had to play individually, she had to play all the best players in her province,” said Cheng’s father, Will. “She thrived on competing against the best, and that’s what she got. When she came to Utah, I feel like she really found her swing with the help of her trainers and coaches. Being able to compete against the best before college and now to have a great support system has really helped her become the tennis player she is today.”
When Jena came to Utah, she had to adjust to playing on a team level — something she had never known or been a part of before. However, the transition was something Jena was looking forward to, and it was one that came with ease.
“My favorite part about playing here is the team aspect,” Jena said. “Growing up, I only played individually, so I only saw my trainers and only played with them. That was the norm. Being able to play as a team gives me a new perspective of the game, and playing at a Pac-12 university, I still get to have the competitiveness that I like.”
Since her career began at Utah, Jena has put an emphasis on being successful on the court and in the classroom. At the end of the 2016 season, she was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team.
“My biggest motivation is focusing on my degree,” Jena said. “Being successful on the court is important to me, but being successful in school is why I am here. I want to focus on the task at hand and get my degree and set an example that [college] athletes can be successful, while still getting good grades.”
Along with earning All-Academic First Team honors, Jena was named an ITA Scholar Athlete. Her success in college is reflective of her work in high school, where she graduated with high honors.
“I’m so proud to be able to see Jena continue to be successful in school,” Will said. “School has always been important to her, so to see her continue to do that and balance it with tennis couldn’t make me more proud.”
Jena plans to major in biology with a pre-dental emphasis. She will work to continue having success in the classroom, and she will build her resume on the court this fall when she returns to Utah for another semester.