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First on the courts for women

First on the courts for women

FAYETTEVILLE — As a member of one of Arkansas’ great women’s tennis teams – the 1998 NCAA Championships round team that was the first to advance past the opening first and second round, Kendra Howard was the first African-American women’s tennis player at the University of Arkansas.

Howard was one of head coach Kevin Platt’s top recruits in 1994 after signing with Arkansas from Detroit, Mich., Country Day High. She was a very accomplished player in the USTA youth system and became a top 100 singles player during her junior season for the Razorbacks.

During her fourth year, Howard was one of two seniors on the team that went 22-9 overall and ended up ranked 16th overall in the nation. Howard compiled a 25-6 record in dual singles play and 23-11 in doubles as the Razorbacks had one of their best seasons to date.

That 1998 team went 7-4 in Southeastern Conference play and won NCAA Southwest Regional that same year by defeating Rice and Houston each by a score of 5-0. They finished off the regional by taking down host LSU, 5-2, to advance to the NCAA Championship – round of 16 for the first time. The Hogs would eventually lose to fifth-ranked Duke, 5-1, in their first match.

It was that team of ’98’s accomplishment that most recently the 2008 team surpassed by advancing not only to the NCAA Championships, but going as far as the Elite Eight round. Since the 1998 season, eight Razorback teams have been selected to compete in the NCAA Tournament, two of which advanced to the Sweet 16. This trend of Razorback women’s tennis in the national spotlight can be traced back to that 1998 squad and the contribution by Howard, who played on four straight NCAA tournament teams.

Today, Howard still ranks in the career top 10 for match wins with 89 and is tied for eighth with two-time All-American Chin Bee Khoo. Howard also is tied for seventh overall in single season match wins when she won 34 matches during that magical 1998 season.

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