In her early teens, Alanna Wolff ’17 was a promising junior tennis player, eager to improve. Before entering eighth grade, she and her parents made a bold decision: She would leave her home in Perth Amboy, N.J., and move with her mother to South Florida, where she could train four to six hours a day with top coaches. Wolff also decided to leave school, choosing instead a home-schooling routine guided by her mom and a private tutor.
Five years later, Wolff is back in New Jersey as a freshman on the women’s tennis team. She’s traded sun-drenched clay courts for the subterranean hard courts of Jadwin Gym, and her training has been trimmed to about three hours a day, including conditioning. But Wolff said she’s still improving — and thrilled to be part of a team.
“There was always an underlying tension [in junior tennis] because you were fighting to get to that college you wanted or fighting to get to the pro tour,” she said. “Here, you’re all fighting for one goal: to win Ivies.”
Wolff’s path to Princeton may be atypical, but it is becoming more common in Ivy League women’s tennis, where at least half of the teams include players who were home-schooled or attended online high schools to accommodate the training and travel associated with their sport.
Laura Granville, Princeton’s second-year head coach and a two-time NCAA singles champion at Stanford, said that elite junior players who value academic rigor are taking a close look at the Ivy schools. Her first recruiting class, headlined by Wolff, was ranked No. 7 in the nation by TennisRecruiting.net. Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale also were included in the top 25.
On the court, Wolff has made a seamless transition to the college game, earning a No. 62 ranking among collegiate singles players and beginning the team season in Princeton’s No. 2 spot, behind All-Ivy standout Lindsay Graff ’15.
Wolff’s return to a traditional classroom also has gone well, she said, thanks in part to the Freshman Scholars Institute, a seven-week summer program that provided early exposure to the University’s curriculum. Admission officers might be wary of home schooling, she said, but the self-discipline she learned was good preparation for college. “Princeton gave me this opportunity,” she said, “and I’m so happy that they did.”