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Saint Leo Women’s Tennis

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After a spring season that was cut short, Saint Leo Athletics saw 10 programs finish the 2019-2020 academic year ranked nationally by their respective associations. Four of those 10 were inside the Top 10 and one, men’s tennis, ranked inside the Top 5 nationally at year’s end.

Three fall programs finished the season with rankings. The volleyball program won the south region and advanced to the national quarterfinals, while women’s and men’s cross country teams reached the national championships.

Volleyball finished the year as the 21st ranked program in the country with one All-America honoree, senior Anilise Fitzi. Men’s and women’s cross country teams each finished as the 30th ranked programs in the nation. Both squads took third at the regional competition.
 
Men’s swimming represented the winter sports in the national poll, rounding out the year in 20th place after sending Matthew Daniel and Kosta Mitrovic to the national championships. The duo received College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) All-America nods for their performances in the pool.

The Lions saw six programs finish the year in the Top 25, in which men’s tennis led all programs with a national rank of fourth. Women’s tennis, softball, and women’s golf all were at eighth in the final polls of their respective associations. Men’s golf rounded out the year as the 13th ranked team, according to GolfStat, where the Lions saw Dave Longhini earn the program’s lone All-South Region nod, announced by the  (GCAA). Women’s lacrosse was off to a 4-3 start, and finished as the 19th ranked program in the country in the shortened season.

Amid the steady beat of the turning twin ropes, a girl jumps. She twists and high-steps to the cadence. What once was a simple game now reaches new heights thanks to the National Double Dutch League and alumna Lauren Walker ’92.

Walker’s father, David A. Walker, founded the league in 1973, when he was a New York City Police Department Community Affairs detective. He and his partner, Detective Ulysses Williams, saw few sports available to girls. “At that time, there were so many youth sports for boys—Pony League baseball, football, and basketball,” Lauren Walker said. “There was nothing for young ladies. He saw young girls jumping double Dutch, and he had the idea of taking this fun activity and turn it into a competitive sport.”

Walker joined in jumping double Dutch. “I jumped in middle school and high school,” she said. “But then I found my joy in tennis.”

She earned a four-year scholarship to Saint Leo, and the Bronx girl came to play tennis in rural Pasco County, FL. “I played under an amazing guy, Coach Tim Crosby,” she said. “He stressed the importance of balancing school and being on a sports team. It was about getting your education.”

Her mother, Judith, was an educator and also stressed the importance of education. Walker earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sport management. She completed an internship with the New York Yankees baseball team, which holds spring training in Tampa. That experience led to a management position with retailer Sports Authority.

“I had the opportunity to network with sponsors, volunteering for special events, classroom projects, and Hoop It Up (three-on-three basketball tournaments),” she said. “I honed my background in event management. That gave me a balance between traditional sports and grassroots sports.”

She worked hard before taking the reins of the National Double Dutch League as president, preserving the legacy of her father, who passed away in 2008. “I think double Dutch is an important urban activity,” she said. “It allows people in our community to have social interactions as well as a fun way to exercise.”

Another aspect of the fancy rope work is competition, Walker said. Double Dutch competition “has allowed this urban activity to have national exposure and has allowed the competitors to interact with other countries and cultures,” she said. “The benefits of double Dutch include teamwork, cooperation, healthy competition, physical fitness, leadership, and creativity. It only takes two turners, one jumper, and a set of ropes. It’s simple.”

Walker enjoys sharing these new cultures with the double Dutch competitors, much like she enjoyed being exposed to different races, ethnicities, and religions during her studies at Saint Leo. “That community prepared me and inspired me to do what I’m doing today,” she said.

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The annual Double Dutch Holiday Classic©, held at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, draws competitors from throughout the world. In addition, the Dynamic Diplomats of Double Dutch demonstration team earns accolades for its fancy footwork and is featured in commercials for companies such as Apple, McDonald’s, and Levis.

Walker’s next goal is to continue her father’s mission to introduce, develop, and promote the sport of double Dutch around the country and the world. “We hope to see double Dutch in the Olympics,” she said.

She also hopes to partner with organizations to get more children and young adults jumping. In addition to physical exercise, Walker wants those involved in double Dutch to “bring their different experiences in life and use them to inspire others.”