By Adam Altobella
He takes a seat behind a table draped with a Delta Eagles cloth, knowing that what he is preparing to do will mark a new milestone in his academic and athletic journeys. As he waits for the go-ahead to put pen to paper, he sits in anxious anticipation and thinks about all that has led up to this occasion.
After answering a couple of interview questions, he signs his name on a powerful document and feels a weight lifted off his shoulders. He is now an Anderson University Raven.
“It was just a lot of relief,” senior tennis player Jordan Ashton said. “I had a lot of stress leading up to which college I was going to choose.”
The stress that Ashton felt when deciding between his options is common for high school seniors who are pursuing collegiate tennis. However, this is where the commonalities come to an end, as Ashton has experienced a journey like few other college tennis players.
Unlike most varsity players for Delta’s illustrious tennis program, Ashton didn’t play his freshman season. This is a far cry from when most high-level players first pick up a racquet.
“The biggest thing with Jordan, in my mind, is not only did he not play tennis as a freshman, but I don’t think he had any experience in athletics,” Delta tennis coach Tim Cleland said. “He came in with almost no sports background; that’s really hard to do.”
His career began somewhat begrudgingly, as his long-time friend, Madalin Davis, had to do a bit of convincing in order for Ashton to register for a six-week lesson session at the Muncie YMCA during the winter of his freshman year.
Despite his initial disposition, and the fact that he was completely new to tennis, Ashton thoroughly enjoyed his YMCA lessons and began to consider joining the Delta tennis squad in the following fall.
And, once the fall of 2018 rolled around, Ashton set out on his Delta tennis journey as a first-year sophomore player.
Although he was initially skeptical about how the team would treat a beginning player, he soon realized that his fears were unfounded.
“They [his teammates] came to me with welcoming arms,” Ashton said. “It was really just eye-opening, and I loved it since then.”
Ashton’s sophomore season soon ended, and despite his 6-10 record at the low junior varsity level, he knew that he wanted to dedicate himself to his newfound passion. Not only would this be rewarding for Ashton as an individual, but it would also enable him to represent the program that treated him so well.
“I knew that everyone else was ahead of me, especially in my grade,” Ashton said. “So, I wanted to get better from there, catch up to everyone in my grade, and then from there I wanted to get to varsity.”
With his goals in mind, and a short time period ahead of him to achieve them, Ashton worked tirelessly to quickly improve his tennis skills in the hopes of playing at the varsity level.
From the conclusion of the 2018 season to the beginning of the 2019 campaign, Ashton did all in his power to rapidly improve; he participated in YMCA clinics, managed the girls’ team in the spring, watched numerous professional matches, and simply picked up a racquet at any possible opportunity.
After a determined, hard-working offseason, Ashton was promoted to No. 2 singles at the junior varsity level as a junior. During his stint as this position, he compiled an 18-6 record, earning the Co-Most Improved Award at the team’s annual banquet.
Although Ashton was pleased with his performance during the 2019 season, there was still one major goal that he had yet to achieve: cracking the varsity line-up.
So, similarly to how he treated the previous offseason, he headed into the time before the 2020 season with as much passion and determination as ever before. During the late fall and winter months of his junior year, Ashton again participated in YMCA clinics and even made a trip out to Punta Gorda, Fla., to work with a tennis instructor who happens to be a family friend.
Following his productive winter, he, like everyone else in the United States, faced adversity when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country. But Ashton remained focused on his goals and played on any open court that he could possibly find in East Central Indiana.
Although his goal to play in a varsity position during his senior season provided enough motivation for him, Ashton soon realized that he could begin working toward a slightly more long-term aspiration — college tennis.
Ashton arrived at the realization that college tennis could be a viable opportunity for him when Katie Hunter, a former No. 1 singles player at Muncie Central and current player at Saint Mary’s College, had a text conversation with him while he and his family were returning home from a trip to Michigan.
Ashton was immediately sold on the idea of college tennis and registered for Next College Student Athlete (NCSA), a recruiting platform, to help market himself to college coaches.
Despite Ashton’s lack of varsity experience, numerous coaches expressed interest in him as a tennis recruit. During the summer, he visited three colleges: Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne; Shawnee State in Portsmouth, Ohio, and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.
As Ashton’s senior season rolled around, he was not only playing to fulfill his initial goal, but also to create an appealing resume for college coaches.
He made a varsity line-up position (No. 2 doubles) in the opening match versus Huntington North.
“I’m just happy that I made it,” Ashton said while thinking back on his season. “It’s a lot of fun being in a varsity position, but it’s also stressful knowing that it’s a state-ranked team and just trying to carry out the legacy that Delta tennis has.”
Many of Ashton’s teammates shared the same joy, and some found his journey to be inspirational.
“Seeing someone who was at the same skill level as me when I started, and seeing him get to the varsity level, has made me aspire to keep working hard,” junior Logan Anderson said.
Ashton and his primary doubles partner, senior Riley Windsor, played to a 19-6 record and helped propel the team to sectional and regional championships in 2020.
Following his successful campaign in 2020, Ashton knew that the time to make a college decision was fast approaching.
He was particularly fond of Shawnee State, Indiana Tech and Saint Francis in the early stages of his recruiting process. However, Coach Matt Moore’s program at Anderson University, a late entry into Ahston’s recruitment, soon stole the spotlight.
“The [Anderson] tennis program is solid, and it is the same atmosphere as Delta tennis,” Ashton said. He also added that Anderson’s convenient location was an appealing aspect, as it was the closest option of the schools he was considering.
So, on Jan. 27, Ashton made a verbal commitment to Anderson’s NCAA Division III tennis program, and on Feb. 2, he became an official Raven when he signed his letter of intent.
“He’ll impact it [Anderson’s program] really positively,” Cleland said. “Jordan Ashton would impact positively any program he’s involved in; you’d be crazy not to put him in your program.”
Ashton plans to major in business administration with a concentration in human resources when he enrolls at Anderson.
Although Ashton’s journey, from his first days on the court to his college signing day, is a source of pride for him and his closest supporters, he will greatly miss his days as a Delta tennis athlete.
“I’ll miss the team and coach [Cleland],” Ashton said. “It [DHS tennis] means a lot of bonding; there’s a team atmosphere.”
In addition to the fact that Ashton will long cherish his days in the program, the greater Delta tennis community will miss his presence, too.
“I’m going to miss having Jordan because he’s just such a good person, and he’s just always cheering on everyone,” junior Brad Shue said.
Logan Anderson added that “He [Ashton] inspires everyone, and he talks to everyone; he’s just a good guy to be around.”
Although Ashton’s aspirations were solely related to tennis, the core concept of his journey is something that can be applied to any area of one’s life. Therefore, everyone has something to gain from Ashton’s perspective.
“Make it [your goal] achievable,” Ashton said. “I always thought my goal was to get to varsity, and that’s it. But, I realized that what’s important is the steps to achieve the goal. Yes I can make a goal, but how I’m going to achieve that goal is what makes you achieve them. My steps that I had to do were to hit with people who were better than me, watch videos of others playing, constantly get feedback about what I need to improve on, and of course lessons with coaches. But, my goal would not have been achievable if I didn’t set any of those little steps to achieve it.”