Junior Leah Heimuli accepted the offer to play for the BYU women’s tennis team after three years playing at two different universities. BYU is her third.
Heimuli, daughter of BYU football alumnus Hema Heimuli and BYU cheer alumna Mari Heimuli, underwent a series of university transfers and overcame an injury to become a BYU Cougar, allowing the family legacy to come full circle.
Heimuli, originally from Highland, Utah, began her collegiate experience at BYU-Hawaii, where she was named 2017 Rookie of the Year and PacWest Freshman of the Year after a perfect record of 24-0 in singles and 19-0 in doubles.
Her freshman year coincided with the last year of BYU-Hawaii’s athletic programs, and she enjoyed her experience on the beautiful island.
After an ideal freshman year, Heimuli transferred schools as BYU-Hawaii phased out it’s NCAA sports teams. This change was brought about as a means of altering the university’s financial goals. Instead of supporting it’s sports teams, BYU-Hawaii decided to use the funds to expand its campus.
It was then that Heimuli decided to go back to her home state, Utah, but this time wearing red as a University of Utah tennis player.
Heimuli said she primarily wanted to attend Utah to participate at a PAC 12 level. While she would have to give up the BYU title, she felt it was right to make the switch at the time.
Heimuli was excited about what she could accomplish at a Division I university, but her tennis progression came to an abrupt halt with a wrist injury during her sophomore year.
“I feel like I lost a lot of confidence because I was unable to play,” Heimuli said. “I never had really been injured before and then I was out for the season, and I was just watching, but it made me more hungry to come back from that.”
It was this new-found hunger and determination for the game that led BYU women’s tennis head coach, Holly Parkinson Hasler, to add Heimuli to BYU’s team.
Hasler saw Heimuli’s fire in the 2018-19 season at the BYU vs. Utah tennis match. At 3-3, it was Heimuli who persevered and won the grueling six-hour match of the BYU-Utah game.
Hasler said that although she had hoped her players would have come out with the win, she was impressed with the sophomore and her ability to play through a stressful situation.
While Heimuli may be one of the newest additions to the team, she has also become a major asset, as she is familiar with the newly-incorporated coaching style of Hasler and assistant coach Dillon Porter.
“My assistant coach, Dillon, actually was an assistant coach at BYU-Hawaii, and his dad was the head coach at BYU-Hawaii,” Hasler said. “We were excited about Leah because we knew that she had already experienced that culture and that environment. And it’s a new environment as far as work ethic and dedication that we have brought to this tennis team here at BYU in the last year.”
Apart from the fact that she knows how to work hard, Porter said Heimuli takes after her dad and is an unbelievable athlete. He also said she brings a different technique to the women’s tennis team that hasn’t been seen in the other players.
While a majority of her tennis teammates like to stay back on the baseline, Porter said, Heimuli adds a new dimension to the team by looking to come up and attack at the net with a volley, a tactic that is closer to the men’s style of play.
As Heimuli enters the BYU court, her parents are also happy with her choice to play for BYU.
“I think that they can stop pretending to be happy for me,” Heimuli laughed. “I think they’re really happy. They loved it here and so when I told them that I was considering transferring to (BYU) they were all for it.”
Heimuli will begin her career as a Cougar in the 2019-20 season and said she is excited to be a part of BYU culture. While she has already been a player for two separate universities, she promises that she is now an unwavering BYU Cougar.
“Even though I’ve been to multiple universities before this, I’m excited to be here and to push the (tennis program),” Heimuli said.