During warmups in the semifinals of the Utah Fall Classic, freshman tennis player Francis Sargeant from Beckenham, United Kingdom, politely asked junior teammate Spencer Smith from Salt Lake City, “Could I get a few smashes?” “No, no you mean overheads,” Smith said. “No, no I mean smashes.” And the language debate goes on.
Sargeant began his smashing career at BYU eight or so weeks ago after more than a decade of preparation and dedication. The freshman brings not only a solid swing to the men’s tennis team but also a positive attitude and a new set of lingo that has brought the team closer together.
“I use loads of stuff in which no one knows what I’m saying,” Sargeant said. “That happens all the time.”
Smashes in England, also known as overheads in the U.S., consist of slamming the ball off the other side of the court in such a fashion the opponent cannot return it. Members of the team have enjoyed this debate on what the proper saying is.
“We have a lot of fun with that,” Smith said. “Francis is a great guy to have around.”
Sargeant started playing tennis at five years old. In the beginning, he didn’t begin playing because it was a family affair, but because he was a bit of a handful for his mother to have around.
“When I was younger my mom was trying to find me a sport because I always had loads of energy,” Sargeant said. “She really wanted to find me a sport where I would lose my energy so I wouldn’t bother her so much. I did loads of sports when I was younger, like cricket, tennis, swimming, cycling, and tennis was the one I got the most into.”
Playing at a tennis club close to his house, Sargeant moved quickly through the classes because the coaches noticed his gifted ability to play. They also noticed one of his unique talents — playing with both hands — which has given him a particular advantage over his opponents.
“I was actually right handed when I started, “Sargeant said, “but then my coach realized I could play left as well.”
While coach Brad Pearce was in the recruiting process, he noticed Sargeant’s unique talent of playing left handed.
“Francis is one of those crafty lefties,” Pearce said. “He has those great dynamics that comes from being a lefty. He has a great serve and great volleys. He is a smart player, great worker and is a great guy to have on the team.”
Like most college athletes, Sargeant had more options to choose from other than BYU, but those options came from his personal diligence after his first choice did not pan out as planned. Initially his early decision was made with Cornell University, but since the school did not offer athletic scholarships, Sargeant took a step backward and did some recruiting of his own.
Sargeant wanted to go to a school with a nice environment, good tennis program and a school known for its academics. In high school, Sargeant excelled in math and received the Gold Award in Mathematics, placing in the top three percent in the U.K.
Like many players on the tennis team, Sargeant has aspirations of joining the professional tour after graduation but knows that decision is up in the air.
“It really depends on where my tennis is at,” he said. “Because if I’m good enough to play on the tour and make money, then obviously that is the ideal situation. The thing is, the likely hood of that happening is extremely small, so you have to have a backup plan, which is why I’ve come to this university.”
He started his search for the combination of academics and tennis with personal emails to 75 universities throughout the United States expressing his interest and desire to play college tennis. Of those 75 schools, 20 responded wanting to know more. After the 20 responses, he whittled his list down to four: The College of William and Mary, Elon University, Northwestern and BYU.
“The coach [from Northwestern] came over to visit me in England,” Sargeant said. “He was pretty keen, but he could not give me a scholarship until next year, so I would have had to take the gap year, which I didn’t want to do. If that would have worked out, I may have gone there instead. As it turned out, BYU has been a really good option for me. I have really enjoyed my time here.”
Part of his enjoyment has come from not only a new country, but also a new religious culture. Back home, Sargeant and his family were members of the Church of England, but did not attend outside of the holiday season.
“I’m taking Rel C 100, the introduction to Mormonism,” Sargeant said. “Now I actually know more about Mormonism than I do about the Church of England. I’m dating a Mormon girl right now, and my friends always joke around about how I’ll get baptized before I graduate. But I don’t know.”
The next four years of Sargeant’s life will revolve mainly around tennis and his academics, but in his first few months at BYU, he has found it a bit difficult to juggle so many new elements in his life.
“The thing is back at home I used to be able to come out of the court, play without a care in the world and just focus on my tennis,” Sargeant said. “But I found here, because there is so much work to do, it is really hard to focus. There are always things on my mind, and I find that I’m getting really overtired. When I go out on the court I just can’t play properly. I don’t think I have adjusted into scheduling my time properly. Once I figure that out I think it will be good.”
Though overwhelmed by his first few months here, he knows he has the support of teammates to help him out when times get tough.
“Francis is really good,” roommate and fellow freshman Keaton Cullimore said. “He is going to do well at BYU.”