The new semester has begun in most universities in the United States and college freshman and Bahamian top junior athlete and tennis player Sydney Clarke has adjusted to life at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) both academically and on the tennis court.
Clarke left for Birmingham, Alabama, early last month and said she has adjusted amidst the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The first few weeks of school are going great. It is not easy and practice does not make it any easier. It is challenging, staying focused and well-rounded. Being a student-athlete is tough, especially with COVID-19. A lot of things have changed so it is really tough going to school and playing tennis because there are so much restrictions,” Clarke said.
While pursuing a degree in marketing or entrepreneurship (still undecided), Clarke will be playing tennis for the UAB Blazers. She began training on August 24.
“The sessions are great. I have been working on my forehand and my serve. I am trying to make them bigger, stronger and more powerful,” Clarke stated. “I met my teammates before school started and I look forward to playing with them in the spring. We are gelling together very well. Our team is like a family and we have a great bond with each other. We don’t argue with each other and it is just a big happy family with a strong bond. We try to make each other better.”
Her main goal on the court is to be locked into her games more mentally.
“My main goal on the court is concentration,” Clarke said. “Sometimes, my mind wanders and I lose focus. I am working on being accountable for my mistakes when I lose focus. I want to increase my intensity while playing.”
Due to the restrictions with facilities in The Bahamas, before she went to Birmingham, Clarke was unable to get into a rhythm. She said she has since found that rhythm.
The UAB Blazers finished a shortened 2020 season with 11 victories and an unblemished 8-0 home win/loss mark. They won eight in a row to end the season, six of which were shutouts, ending with one of the strongest finishes in program history. The Blazers compete out of Conference USA in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I.
Clarke said that Birmingham fits her pace as she is a very “chill and laid-back person”. She said it feels like home to her in that it is very big on family. Of course, there have been some adjustments that she had to make.
“My biggest adjustment that I have to make would be to be more organized,” Clarke said. “During these past couple weeks, I had to set a lot of reminders in my phone to remember which days I have to go to class in-person and which days I have to stay in my dorm for class, the time I have practice, weights and other meetings for school.”
Currently, she is taking five classes – three are in-person and two are online. She said she prefers the in-person classes over the online ones. Her academic goal is to maintain a 3.50 grade point average (GPA).
According to the Bahamian junior tennis standout, the school has placed a lot of restrictions on students and faculty because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to do a health check every morning before attending class. Entering and exiting other buildings on campus, especially the dorms, we have to have our health check or else you are not allowed in the building. We have to wear masks all the time, even in the dorms. There is social distancing for lines at lunch. There is a grab-and-go and you eat elsewhere. They have cut down the number of students per classes so they split us up and have us in smaller numbers so we can go to class in-person on alternate days,” Clarke said.
It has been a month now and the freshman said she misses her family and friends. She said she misses home and cannot wait to come back.
She was set to play in her third straight Fed Cup Tournament this year but it was postponed until next year because of COVID-19. The fierce competitor is hoping to make the Fed Cup team again next year.
Clarke is one of the fastest rising sports stars in The Bahamas, and was honored for her success when she was named as the recipient of the Junior Female Athlete of the Year Award at the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture’s National Sports Awards last year.