College

Against the odds: UNF Pickleball Club stealthy climb to national ranking

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The University of North Florida has achieved an impressive 17th national ranking in the DUPR Gamma Pickleball Power Rankings after competing in the Florida Regional Tournament this September in Boca Raton, Florida.

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The recently established UNF Pickleball Club was among 24 teams representing 17 schools in the region vying for a spot in the Collegiate National Championship.

Despite being a relatively new and primarily recreational club, UNF’s Pickleball Club President Courtney Hughes agreed to one member’s initiative to sign up for the Florida Regional Tournament. 

“We didn’t have many expectations… We kind of just went there to have fun, see how we would do against all the schools,” she said.

With only a month to prepare, they held tryouts amongst themselves and made spontaneous decisions like getting team shirts just days before the tournament. Courtney nonchalantly described what is was like walking into the tournament grounds.

“We showed up, and some teams had jerseys … some schools had coaches … So, we just walked in like, here we are,” she said.

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Although their identity became a topic of discussion among spectators, given the unfamiliarity with the university, their performance was getting attention, turning people to recognize UNF and their team’s exceptional talent.

UNF Pickleball Club Vice President, Judah Samples, remarked, “It put a chip on our shoulder because we ended up dominating people.”

The UNF Ospreys Pickleball Club soared from obscurity to claim a remarkable 3rd place in the DUPR Pickleball Collegiate Florida Regionals and secured a coveted spot in the Collegiate Nationals.

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However, the path to victory is not without its challenges. Off the court, collegiate clubs like UNF face hurdles due to limited resources and financial support. Courtney shared that buying equipment independently and finding a place to play were just some of the challenges of being a club sport.

“We started at the gym and that wasn’t really fun because we wanted real courts, so we practiced at public parks,” Samples added.

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Despite national recognition, clubs like UNF will face hurdles as long as pickleball remains unrecognized as an official college sport. This is where the broader pickleball community plays a role. Your support, whether through sponsorship, spreading awareness, or simply cheering them on, holds immense significance. Not only for the future of these aspiring pickleball college athletes but the sport itself.

Until the day pickleball becomes a sanctioned college sport, the UNF Pickleball Club will continue to share the joy of recreational play with students. As for the competition team, they are proud and motivated to keep UNF on the map. The team is now gearing up for the ultimate challenge, where they will face off against the top 36 colleges in the county at the Collegiate Nationals this November in Atlanta, Georgia.

Follow UNF Pickleball on Instagram: @UNFPickleball

Go Fund Me: https://www.gofundme.com/f/unf-pickleball-goes-to-nationals

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