CHICAGO — By the time Chicago tennis star Zoë Spence officially signs with Notre Dame on Wednesday, she will have traveled a long, long road.
The South Loop resident and Francis W. Parker School senior has played in junior tournaments around the world — from Guatemala to Ghana — on her way to being ranked one of the top players in the state. She will also make history when she inks her signature to a National Letter of Intent as the first African-American scholarship tennis player in Notre Dame's rich women's tennis history, according to a Notre Dame sports media relations official.
"I'm really proud of that," Spence, 17, said of breaking a color barrier of sorts. "I see that as a good accomplishment."
Both of Spence's parents were standout student-athletes in South Bend. Her father, Marvin, played cornerback for the Fighting Irish; her mother, Benét, was a team captain on Notre Dame's field hockey team.
"It's great to see her succeeding on the international circuit and continuing the family legacy at Notre Dame," Benét Spence said.
Marvin and Benét are now a business owner and associate professor of marketing at University of Illinois at Chicago, respectively, but they're also Spence's chauffeurs to and from daily practice at the Hinsdale Racquet Club in the western suburbs.
Like most elite young tennis players, Spence does not play on a high school team, and instead competes in national and international tournaments. She said her traveling schedule is "like a job." In addition to practicing for more than 10 years in Hinsdale, she's improved her game under Kamau Murray at XS Tennis on the South Side.
"She's probably the most deceptive player I've ever taught," said Murray, who has coached Spence since she was 9 years old. "When you see her, she's not a big kid, but she's probably one of the most competitive kids I've ever taught and the best ball striker I've ever taught. She has phenomenal power that she's able to generate from such a small frame, and is actually close to that of a pro."
Spence attended Lenart Elementary Regional Gifted Center in Chatham through seventh grade before enrolling at Parker. Spence said the private Lincoln Park school has enabled her to balance academics with her hectic tennis schedule.
Spence said her career so far has been a success because so many people — from family to coaches — have supported her journey.
"Tennis is a lot of work and commitment," she said. "I'd like to thank everybody who's helped me come a long way."
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