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Interaction with Billie Jean King shows why fearless Midori Castillo Meza is headed for big things

Interaction with Billie Jean King shows why fearless Midori Castillo Meza is headed for big things

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Midori Castillo Meza

Midori Castillo Meza’s opening serve as a Wildcat was a winner.

Two weeks ago, the blue-chip freshman recruit participated in the USTA Billie Jean King Girls’ 16 & 18 National Championships in San Diego. During the Q&A portion with the tournament’s namesake, Castillo Meza stepped up to the microphone.

“We all know how hard you fought for equality and how many barriers you broke in women’s tennis; do you think there are still barriers to break? And what can we do to break them?” Castillo Meza asked.

King hit it back to her audience and asked them what they thought. After all, she said, “you are the ones who will shape the future.”

Castillo Meza took the volley and ran with it.

“I think one of the main topics is racism,” she said. “I personally have experienced that. It is a little hard to speak about it, but I think if we just get it out there and speak about it and talk to more people about it, there is definitely a chance to end racism.”

“I think you are already leading talking about racism,” King said.

That sort of bravery is exactly why UA women’s tennis coach Ryan Stotland began recruiting Castillo Meza starting when she was 14 years old. He saw it then, and knew she would rise to the occasion in big moments — even with some nerves.

“I was super proud when we saw her do that because it seemed like she had been doing that for years,” Stotland said. “It was very professional — the way she handled it, the way she spoke and came back and answered Billie Jean’s question was amazing. It shows you what kind of person she is and how great a kid she really is.

“She is one of the most professional people I’ve ever met at age 14 — she’s by far the most professional person I’ve ever met. She has really high expectations for herself. She’s always done these things very, very well. I didn’t know that she would have such a deep question for Billie Jean and be able to answer like that, but Midori is awesome and anything that comes out of her mouth we expect it to be great.”

A Chula Vista, California, native, Castillo Meza has competed at the highest levels of junior tennis, and won the gold ball at the USTA National Winter Championships held in Tucson in 2018.

Castillo Meza is part of a highly-ranked freshman class: The Wildcats’ newcomers are ranked No. 17 nationally by Tennis Recruiting Network. It’s been 11 years since a UA class was ranked at all.

The class also features two five-star recruits (Mary Grace Armistead and Parker Fry) and two four-star players (Kayla Meraz and Belen Nevenhoven). The freshmen are joined by a pair of transfers: freshman Lexi Ryngler joins the Wildcats from Texas, while graduate transfer Salma Ziouti arrives from Drexel.

“They’re going to turn this culture into one of these winning cultures like the men’s program has, and they really want it,” Stotland said. “Having someone like Midori lead the way and show us the professionalism because her she has really high standards to be one of the top players in the world. She’s going to work hard every day, everybody’s going to follow and everybody wants it. It’s just a really great atmosphere to be a part of.”

Stotland believes a lot of things worked in his favor of attracting this class. For example: Castillo Meza’s hitting partner in Mexico knows Stotland.

But it was the Wildcats’ campus, facilities and culture — and not necessarily the connections — that led Castillo Meza to commit.

“When I got to Tucson, I just fell in love with the place,” Castillo Meza said. “I felt so welcomed, and it was like a second home. … Arizona has meant a lot since then.”

Castillo Meza considers herself an aggressive player who likes to dictate points. She said that Stotland is helping her with “movement on the court, learning how to cut more the angles, be more intelligent, more efficient with my movement.”

“One of my strengths is my mental toughness,” Castillo Meza said. “(I) continue to fight for every single point no matter the score, no matter if I’m winning or losing. Ever since I was a little girl, my parents told me never to give up. Fight for everything because things are life in life are not going to be easy. We didn’t come from a family with a lot of money so everything that I did, I had to work for it. I saw that in my parents, and they pushed me to be like that.”

Castillo Meza has stood tall, even if her height — she’s listed at 5 feet 1 inch — is far from prototypical among tennis standouts.

“I’m usually the shortest one … but honestly I see that as a strength because I know that nobody’s going to be faster than me,” Castillo Meza said. “That’s why I’m always working on being super-quick. I also know that they (others) have big serves or whatever, but it all comes down to who is more tough, mentally, because tennis is such a mental sport.”

Castillo Meza’s ultimate goal is to turn pro and be ranked in the Top 25. For now, though, she focused on fitting in with new team.

“I want the team to be top 20 national team ranking. I want to beat Stanford, USC, those big, big teams — that would be such a great accomplishment,” she said. “It’s just amazing, being part of this team. I’ve never met a group of girls like this before. Everyone’s so great at what they’re doing. We’re like a family now.”

Drop shots

Stotland believes this year’s squad is an NCAA Tournament-caliber. To help motivate the Wildcats, Stotland got creative.

“We gave everyone bricks — it’s our motto. It’s a two-fold thing to be mentally tough, like the three little pigs story where we’re building that house and then we are building that house together,” Stotland said. “We talked about there are no holes in a house. If one brick isn’t connecting at the end of the year, we haven’t built the house right. We’re trying to … understand it is brick-by-brick. That’s how I’ve built this program. We’ve got a little bit more done each year. I think this year is where we can really move it up the needle a lot more.”

The Wildcats posted a 3.67 GPA in the spring semester. Five players posted 4.0 GPAs.

Junior Kayla Wilkins won two ITA Summer Circuit tournaments at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest over the summer.

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