Lakeside's Rice makes it official, signs with UA

By Zach Parker The Sentinel-Record
This article was published November 10, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

For the second time in as many years, the state's No. 1 high school tennis player is staying home.

Following in the footsteps of older sister Tatum, Lakeside senior Thea Rice signed a national letter of intent with the University of Arkansas on Thursday.

"It feels great; I've been wanting this for almost a year now after committing last year," Rice said. "I've always had my eye set on this school. I have butterflies in my stomach; I'm so excited to finally make it official."

Ranked as the No. 45 player in the country by Tennisrecruiting.net, Rice's accolades speak for themselves. The senior is a three-time all-state singles performer, two-time state singles runner-up and 2017 Class 5A singles champion.

Rice also earned all-state doubles honors as a freshman in 2014, winning the Class 5A doubles championship with Hannah Porter.

"I started when I was young and had great coaches that helped me through it all growing up," said Rice. "High school tennis was a lot more mental because I was always expected to win. It put a little more pressure on me, but it's always nice to overachieve."

On last name alone, Rice has lofty expectations to live up to at Arkansas. Her grandfather Brooks Rice is a member of the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame while mother Tracy Webb Rice, starting point guard for the Arkansas women's basketball team from 1983--87, is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor.

The youngest Rice sibling has been heeding advice from older sister Tatum, a freshman tennis player for the Razorbacks, as she prepares to join her on a team that finished 18-10 this season.

"Last year, I wanted to sign already, but Tatum told me to wait, and now I'm enjoying it even more as a senior," she said. "I took my official visit last weekend, and it was great. I love the team, I love the girls and I just love the atmosphere at Arkansas."

Outside of tennis, Rice has also starred for Lakeside's basketball team, earning all-conference honors last season after averaging seven points and nine assists per game.

As she prepares for the next step in her athletic career, Rice is looking forward to the increased competition at the collegiate level while also playing alongside teammates with a similar skill set.

"I'll have a great group of girls to play with, and I'm really excited about that," she said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like to have so many other players, because down here I'm just hitting with Tatum. I hope to really progress in tennis more since I'll have more available options to succeed."

Sports on 11/10/2017
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