It was the perfect storm for junior tennis player Tyler Stayer in his unexpected journey to becoming a member of the Baylor men’s tennis team.
Just months ago, Stayer was a member of the club tennis team. Now Stayer finds himself in the thick of a tightly contested Big 12 regular season.
With injuries and ineligibilities plaguing the Baylor men’s tennis team this season, the Bears’ coaching staff was left with no choice but to scout the Baylor club tennis team for reserves.
When Stayer got the call from the varsity team, the decision whether to accept the offer was a no-brainer, he said.
“It was an immediate yes,” Stayer said. “I thought it was really cool. I didn’t think that I would be playing regularly, I just thought I would have a chance to get a lot better at tennis, use the facilities and practice with the coaches.”
Stayer thought his competitive tennis career was, for the most part, complete after graduating from high school.
Little did Stayer know his involvement in Baylor’s club tennis team would eventually thrust him under the lights to represent his school again with the best of the best.
Picking up basketball and soccer early on in life, Stayer seemed to be a natural at sports, but it wasn’t until he reached the age of 9 that tennis opened new possibilities for Stayer.
Stayer’s mother, Melissa, recalled the first time he used a racquet. It was a moment that both of Stayer’s parents realized their son’s gift to play tennis.
“When he was around 9 years old, I put him in a little, local tennis camp one summer at Wagon Wheel,” his mother said. “Some of these kids were very serious. In fact, when we got there we didn’t even have a racquet because we thought it was a camp where they gave you racquets. So my ex-husband had to go buy him a racquet from behind the counter at the camp. Tyler beat everybody there.”
From that point on, Tyler’s passion for tennis began to grow.
“We put him in a ZAT tournament the following month and he won it all,” Stayer’s mother said. “He was 10 years old, and people were freaking out about it. So at 10 he won his first tournament with the racquet that was bought over-the-counter.”
Giving up soccer to focus on basketball and tennis, Stayer would play all through middle school, participating in select basketball and competing in tennis tournaments.
It was when he started attending Brookhaven in Dallas that he started improving at a rapid pace.
“My mom, when I was a kid, would put me in a lot of different sports to see what I like, and I actually ended up liking all of them. That is why I ended up playing basketball and soccer for a long time,” Stayer said. “She did research online, and that is why I ended up at Brookhaven. She really pushed me and helped me get the best tools to improve.”
However, the weekend tournaments and long days of practice seemed to weigh on Stayer.
Although he had talent that could have potentially earned him a college scholarship, Stayer decided that high school tennis was enough and stopped playing in tournaments that would have improved his ranking.
While starting college seemed like the end of his tennis career, it was during his sophomore year at Baylor that a friend encouraged him to join the club tennis team. Stayer’s passion for the sport reignited.
“My freshman year, I didn’t play on the club team. I was a little burned out after my senior year of high school, because I played a lot my junior and senior years of high school,” Stayer said. “I joined club my sophomore year because I had a friend who was joining and it was a great experience.”
After an impressive club tennis season, winning various tournaments and making it to nationals, Stayer decided to return once again to the club team the following year.
It was in his second semester in his junior year that Stayer saw his tennis career take an unanticipated turn. Men’s tennis assistant coach Dominik Mueller reached out to Stayer about joining team.
Stayer would see his first match against Texas Tech on Feb. 13.
“My first match was against Texas Tech and it was at the ITA National Indoors in Virginia,” Stayer said. “I was excited, but I was also super nervous. Now that I have been playing matches more regularly, I’m not as nervous.”
“My first match I was really distracted and focused on the people in the crowd, but now I use it as a bonus. I really focus on the match, but when I hear them I get excited.”
Now past the first match jitters, the coaches and his teammates have all been thrilled to have Stayer on the lineup as he continues to improve.
“He has been a joy,” said head coach Matt Knoll. “The guy has improved in the three or four weeks he’s been with us more than anybody I have ever seen. He listens, he does exactly what we ask him to do, and he’s a great teammate. He is just phenomenal.”
Senior Julian Lenz, who has played doubles with Stayer the past few matches, is blown away by the progress and skill that Stayer has brought basically out of nowhere.
“He is working really hard and he’s really going out there wanting to win. He is not afraid. He is trying to help the team and he is really good,” Lenz said. “He’s a funny guy and social also. He is really involved. He has just improved a ton compared to how he was playing early in the season. He stays after practice, hitting serves for hours, he is doing all the right things.”
As his junior year comes to an end, Stayer, who has plans to become a lawyer one day, perhaps surprised a couple people with his unanticipated collegiate tennis career. But there is one person who’s not surprised by Stayer’s success – his mother.
“He did very well in high school then gave it up, but then he came here (Baylor) and started club tennis,” Stayer’s mother said. “He got into it, and now look at where he is at. I love how he is so humble. Anything that he has wanted to do, he can be the best at it.”