TC’s Emoto driven to achieve on and off the court

Tabor College’s Jessica Emoto earned NAIA All-American recognition from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association at the conclusion of her sophomore campaign. Tabor’s No. 1 women’s singles player, Emoto qualified for the USTA/ITA National Small College Tennis Championships last fall. She went 28-5 in singles and 18-5 in doubles last year and was a unanimous selection as KCAC Most Valuable Player.Jessica Emoto first hit a tennis ball when she was 6 years old, but it wasn’t until a few years later, at age 9 or 10, that she really began to enjoy the game.

An Oregon native, Emoto has played collegiately for Tabor College the past two years and was recognized as an NAIA All-American at the conclusion of her sophomore campaign.

It was her mother, Emoto said, who introduced her to the sport.

“My mom played a little bit when she was in her early 20s, (but) not very seriously,” she said. “She just thought that my sister and I would like to play.”

Emoto began attending local group lessons and played in a summer league. She was attracted to tennis because of the social aspect of the sport.

“It was fun because I had friends in it, and it’s a sport where you can talk to each other,” she said. “I just kind of liked how you had to be focused for it.”

She continued playing tennis at Gresham (Ore.) High School. The highlight of her career happened her senior year, she said. In her final match at state, Emoto earned a memorable victory over one of her biggest rivals.

“It was against a girl that I had grown up playing in tournaments and we had a pretty strong rivalry,” she said. “We had a few disagreements. She had beaten me the last two years, but that last match I came out on top after 3 hours of playing.”

Emoto graduated from Gresham in 2014 with a desire to continue playing tennis at a Christian college. Having never heard of Tabor College, she received an unexpected email from Bluejay coach John Ruder.

“Our coach emailed me out of the blue and offered me a scholarship,” she said. “It was really my only and first offer, so I was pretty interested. Then I came out and visited, and I really liked the school and I liked all the people I met, so I was sold.”

Ruder said he was impressed with Emoto’s work ethic and potential.

“When I first talked to her, she was very sincere about wanting to get a good education and was an excellent student, and I could tell from the video that I saw of her that she really had some good fundamentals,” he said. “Then when she came to visit, I just thought she had a great personality, was a good Christian young lady, and when I saw her hitting the ball, I knew that she was a player who would develop into a really strong player in our conference.”

Emoto found success early on at Tabor.

She recorded 25 wins and five losses in No. 1 singles her freshman year. In doubles, she went 18-10. The year culminated with Emoto being named KCAC Freshman of the Year. She was also a unanimous first-team selection, the only underclassman to make the list.

“Everything was new, so I was just kind of going into it blind and just having a good time,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. It was a really great first year.”

Emoto’s success continued during her sophomore campaign in 2015-16. She went 28-5 in No. 1 singles, sweeping all of her KCAC opponents. Her only loss in the spring was to an opponent from Seward County in early March. She went 18-5 in doubles action.

“I think we got her physical conditioning better, and that really strengthened her game,” Ruder said. “The only matches she really lost her freshman year were three-set matches, and she never even went into a three-set match this year I don’t think. Her shots have improved and her strategy’s improved. She’s just worked really hard.”

Emoto ranked as high as seventh in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and ended the season ranked eighth. She was also honored as the women’s Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship Award recipient in the ITA Central region.

The achievement Emoto said she is most proud of was being one of eight women to qualify for the USTA/ITA National Small College Tennis Championships in Sumter, S.C., last October.

She qualified by winning the USTA/ITA Regional Championships, where she was the No. 1 seed in women’s singles. After a first-round bye, Emoto won five consecutive matches to claim the title, coming back from a 4-1 deficit in the finals.

At nationals, Emoto went 1-2 in the NAIA Singles bracket to finish seventh overall.

“Everybody’s really solid, but it was a really good experience to go and see that, and then to see the other divisions there, too,” she said. “I was just glad to come out with a win at all.”

A unanimous selection as KCAC Most Valuable Player, Emoto also received first-team All-KCAC honors and was named KCAC Scholar Athlete of the Year at the conclusion of the season.

She was one of 20 athletes to earn NAIA All-American recognition from the ITA in women’s singles and was the only KCAC athlete to make the list.

When asked about her mental approach on the court, Emoto said:

“I always try to just stay calm and not worry about it. A lot of times you’ll miss a shot and you can get down, but I just try to forget about it if I do that and make sure that I play my game and get every ball back in.”

Tennis has provided an outlet from Emoto’s rigorous class load.

“I really enjoy playing, and playing for a team that is really supportive and that I really like,” she said. “It was a hard year with my schooling. I had a lot of coursework. Tennis was a really great outlet for me and a good break from all of the schoolwork. I put everything into it when I was out there.”

Emoto is a pre-med biology major and intends to graduate in 2018. She said she would like to go on to medical school.

“I want to become a doctor and then I eventually would like to be able to use that for missions,” she said. “I just feel like I would like to be able to do that and to have a skill that’s useful.”

Ruder said Emoto’s work ethic and organization have driven her success.

“She just gets everything done when it comes to schoolwork (and) practice,” he said. “She has a busy schedule because she’s a pre-med major, so she takes a lot of tough classes, but she never misses anything.

“Then, when it comes to on the court, I think it’s kind of a carry-over from that. She can work points really hard and never lets anything frustrate her or take her out of her game, even when she’s in a tough match. She just keeps on plugging away.”

To prepare for her return to Tabor in the fall, Emoto said she’s been practicing with friends and competing with World Team Tennis in the Portland area.

She has both individual and team goals in mind for her junior season.

“I would definitely like to go back to nationals if I can, but I know there’s always going to be more competition, so I’m hoping to be ready for that,” she said. “Then I’d really like it if our team could make it to the playoffs this year because I definitely think we can.”

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