Editor’s note: In appreciation of the members of the vast Florida tennis community, all throughout April USTA Florida will pay tribute to the high school, collegiate, and club tennis seniors who have seen their respective seasons cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than let achievements and accomplishments both on and off the court be overshadowed by unexpected challenges, USTA Florida has given some of these seniors the chance to share the positives and successes they’ve had.

Alyssa “Ally” Hayduk is a senior at Miami Palmetto Senior High School and has been a member of the Palmetto high school tennis team since her freshman year. As a sophomore, she helped lead the team to the 2018 Florida State High School Tennis Championships state title and advanced to the championship match in doubles. Despite dedicating herself to tennis, Hayduk also devotes her time to volunteering in her community. Her firsthand experience with a rare heart condition led her to find Ally’s Cardiac Education, or ACE, an organization where she educates athletes about hidden heart conditions and assists them in having their hearts checked. She also is part of Miami Palmetto’s Forensics Investigative Academy, a club that has partnered with the FBI’s Citizens Academy to create a better relationship between law enforcement and underprivileged children. Her volunteer work earned her a nomination in the athletics category for a Miami Herald Silver Knight award, an accolade for outstanding high school students in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The soon-to-be 18-year-old has committed to playing Division I tennis at Samford University in Homewood, Alabama, just outside Birmingham.

How long have you been playing tennis?

I’ve been playing competitively in USTA since I was 10, so almost eight years of competitive tennis. But I’ve been swinging the racquet around playing with my dad since I was around 3 to 5 years old.

What’s your favorite thing about the sport?

I love working hard. It might sound a little weird, but I enjoy being able to compete. My dad is a baseball coach, so I’ve always been in the realm of loving competition. When I’m on the court in a match and able to compete, it’s something that I really enjoy.

Of all your individual tennis achievements at Miami Palmetto, which was your favorite moment and why?

My best achievement was winning a state title my sophomore year. That year my team went undefeated and we won team all-around. Then, myself and my doubles partner went on to reach the finals of individual doubles. I walked out of the state tournament with a gold and a silver. I was really proud of myself that year because, at the time, I had a couple of people in my life pass away that I was very close to. I dedicated my play through the rest of that year to them.

The Miami Palmetto girls’ and boys’ state title teams in 2018

How has your game developed while playing high school tennis?

I’d like to say that my game has changed immensely over four years of playing high school tennis. When I was a freshman, I was the number three starter. I’ve always been a starter just because of how it lined up, but when I was younger I was very timid when it came to being offensive and coming to the net. I also had some variants in my game, but through the years I’ve been able to develop more shots that allow me to change the pace of the game and change the way that I play. It’s not just hitting the ball anymore – it’s hitting the ball, hitting a drop shot, and then try to come to the net. My game has matured, because its more than just hitting the ball and seeing what happens. Now it’s “I have this plan and how can I execute it?”

What is the best part of being on a team?

Especially for tennis, I think being on a team is very important. When you’re playing singles, you’re on the court alone. You must work by yourself. When you’re on a team it just changes everything because you’re not just working to win for yourself, you’re working to win for your team. You’re working to better the team.

What I’ve always loved about high school tennis is when we play against each other. My team right now, we play in rows. I’ll be on one court and another girl is next to me. While we’re playing, let’s say the girl next to me hits a great shot and I’m like, “nice ball right there, do it again!” We’ll just cheer each other on and I love the team camaraderie. I love cheering others on and I enjoy being able to work together especially since tennis is an isolated sport where we work together for one cause instead of working individually for our own cause.

What is your favorite team moment from the past four years?

The moment my team realized we were going to states my sophomore year. I remember that match; I was playing a girl who I had been matched up to play against two or three times already that season. I went out there and I won my match – when every single other time we played it went to tiebreaks. I walked off the court knowing my match meant that we were going to states. I was shocked because I’ve always grown up around the tennis team and it’s always been the goal to go to states for my high school. So being able to actually do it and be someone who helped do it was really exciting. We had a giant huddle-up and everyone was happy, there were tears of joy, hugging, some screaming, and just a collective feeling of “oh wow we did this!”

What does involvement in sports mean to you?

My entire life I have been an athlete. I’ve always played tennis. I’ve never played any other sport. I’ve always been a very athletic person. I love going for runs, I enjoy working out, I enjoy working hard on the court and training. I’d like to say that I embody a student-athlete because I spend six hours in the classroom at school and then I’ll spend four hours out on the court. I’m able to play both roles – I enjoy being an athlete and a student.

It’s also connected to my volunteering. I have two separate community service projects. One is helping to donate toys to underprivileged kids in need during the holidays and working to teach them about law enforcement through a partnership with the FBI’s Citizens Academy. I saw a lack of funding for these kids at lower-income schools in higher crime rate neighborhoods. These kids don’t have very much. I wanted to create a program where during the holidays, one of the toughest times of the year, they can have something a little more special. We go to a different school every year, and this last year we visited Pine Villa Elementary in Miami and provided toys for kids from pre-K to 5th grade. I think overall we donated close to 3,000 toys. It was a rewarding experience being able to teach them a little bit about law enforcement and the importance of school and the need to try and further your education – just really rewarding.

My other community service project is ACE – Ally’s Cardiac Education. I have an Instagram account (@a.c.e._by_ally) where I teach people about the importance of heart health. I myself had a rare heart condition that we didn’t know about until I was 12, called Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome. It’s a rare heart condition where an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes rapid heartbeat. Basically, my heart could shut down. I had corrective surgery when I was 13 and also had to go through years of cardiologist meetings to make sure the issue didn’t resurface. About a year ago, I was completely cleared by my cardiologist. Because this happened to me, I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. That’s when I started the ACE program at my tennis center. I made sure all the kids that I trained with had received an EKG, screening for their heart to make sure everything was okay. I run little camps with little kids and then I go to other tennis centers and I bring equipment to teach them about the importance of their health.

I just love tennis. I’m really thankful for the sport and thankful for what it has allowed me to do. I’m very thankful I’ve been able to play tournaments and compete. Tennis has taught me how to compete, it’s taught me a work ethic, tennis has done a lot for me and I’m really appreciative of that.

What has been the most exciting part of your career as an athlete?

The opportunities I’ve been able to have. I never thought I would be able to travel around the country for tennis. My parents have sacrificed certain things so that I would have the opportunity to travel around the country. I’ve been to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Arizona, I went to San Diego, California last summer for hardcourt nationals. It’s allowed me to travel and see and do some things that I never would have done otherwise. The opportunities that this sport has given me I’m so grateful for. I never thought that I would be able to play Division 1 tennis at a university for a scholarship. I never thought that I’d be able to do that.

What led you to ultimately choose Samford University when you were selecting the college you wanted to play at?

I honestly didn’t know anything about the school before they contacted me. I did a lot of research on the school and I found that it’s a smaller, private university in Birmingham, Ala. I started looking at the school and I loved it. I loved the camaraderie. I loved the coach, who is very much the style of coaching that I really enjoy. He was a very good recruiter; he’s very good at what he does. I was able to see the campus and he was able to me what Samford offered. I loved it.

Are you excited to join the Samford team?

I’m going into the Samford team with six other freshmen. I already personally know two of the other girls on the team because they are both also from Florida. I think because we already know each other, we’ll be able to form a bond that will carry on throughout our college careers. We’re connected by tennis and we’ll be able to grow together as a family because of the sport. I also know I’m rooming with another girl on the team. We’re all just starting to get connected and form a little family, even though we don’t fully know each other yet. I can already tell that we’re starting to become a tight-knit group of tennis players.

What expectations do you have for your freshmen year at Samford?

What I’ve been working toward since I’ve known that I was going to Samford is that I want to play on the starting lineup as a freshman. I would love to be able to compete against other schools as a freshman. That’s my main goal. Besides that, it’s always trying to win as many matches as I can to keep our record up, make it to the conference championships, and win the nationals tournament.

Once you graduate from college in 2024, will you continue to play tennis?

I plan to keep playing, just not at the same competitive level. I plan to retire when I’m finished college tennis but if opportunities open up, I will take them.

What do you plan to major in at Samford University?

I plan to major in mass communications with a minor in sports media.

What are your goals for the future?

My dream job is to be one of the head producers for ESPN. I really want to go into sports broadcasting.

What advice would you have for other high schoolers, in general, looking to get involved on a team?

Many high schools have tennis players, but sometimes those tennis players choose not to play because they don’t think high school tennis is worth it and would rather play USTA or ITF. I would say to them that playing on the high school team sets you up for college. I can honestly say that being on a team and playing for my high school has helped prepare me for college. Being on a team is something that many players are not used to. You learn to work together instead of trying to work through it yourself – in a sense learning selflessness. I would advocate that if you have the chance to play for your high school team, do it.