Countdown: Brigante Keeps Open Mind, Chooses Sooners
by Blair Henley, 15 October 2013
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The USTA's Florida section is widely known as a tennis breeding ground where players are groomed from birth to one day enjoy a college or pro career. But don't tell Christiana Brigante. She was 14 years old when she decided to take tennis seriously, ignoring her peers' 10 year head start. In other words, this soon-to-be University of Oklahoma Sooner has not been your typical junior player.
A native of Westin, Fla., Brigante spent time on the soccer field while her future opponents were playing their first tennis tournaments. She honed her athletic skills on a team that captured five consecutive state titles, spending her offseasons dabbling in a weekly tennis clinic at her local club. It was there that coach Caesar Stewart
caught a glimpse of her raw talent.
"[Caesar said] he was 'taken with my athleticism' and asked my parents if he could have a summer to train me," Brigante said, laughing as she recalled the story. "I was goofing around, basically. I knew how to hit a backhand because I could use two hands. I was just swinging away and hitting it."
As it turns out, one summer was all it took to take Brigante from once-a-week recreational player to full-blown competitor. Her ranking skyrocketed from 800 to 200 in Florida, culminating in her first appearance in a state "designated" tournament. And that's where the Cinderella story hit a speed bump.
"A lot of the tennis players were a lot bigger than me," she explained, "so going in as a kid that just started playing a few months ago, skinny and smaller than everyone else, was intimidating. I had been told many, many times that Florida was a tough section, and so I went in thinking that it wasn't going to be pretty."
So how did it go?
"Oh, I lost and lost," she said matter-of-factly. "The matches aren't ones that I would say were competitive, but you have to start somewhere."
In less than four years, Brigante used what she calls a "grinding" game style to claw her way to five-star status and a national recruiting ranking of 66. Competing in a combination of junior ITFs and USTA tournaments, she began to realize how much her natural disposition helped her on the court.
"I don't back down," she said. "If someone is really killing me, I'll keep fighting. I'll never be one of those people who will roll over and protect their ego. If they beat me, they actually beat me because I'm never going to give up."
Once her attitude and athleticism began to attract attention from various universities, Brigante sat down with her mom and a list of the NCAA's top 75 teams to plot out her top picks. She remembers her mother suggesting the Oklahoma, to which she replied, "Why would I want to live there?"
Her perspective changed when she received a "nice, genuine" email from University of Oklahoma head coach David Mullins. After accepting an official visit, she instantly fell in love with the Oklahoma atmosphere.