BYU women’s coach turns her tennis legacy into coaching success

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Head coach Holly Parkinson Hasler started her tennis legacy when she was eight years old. With dedication and hard work, Hasler began to play professionally when she was only 18 years old. (BYU Photo)

Butch Walts thought he had seen them all. 

As a former professional tennis player — one who held a singles ranking of World No. 32 in 1979 and a doubles ranking of World No. 23 in 1984 — Walts said he had many people introduce themselves to him, hoping to persuade him to train their children. Although he figured Dan Parkinson was skewed in the description of his daughter, Holly, Walts agreed to watch the 15-year-old play. 

This time, however, Walts was wrong. 

“Honestly, from the very first time I hit tennis balls with her, I knew she had the potential to become a professional,” Walts said. “It was that obvious.”  

Holly Parkinson Hasler was a different kind of tennis player — she was dedicated, fast and felt the need to win. Although only a junior in high school during Walts’ training, Holly held the same expectations for perfectionism as Walts. A trait, Walts said, that cannot be taught with ease. 

The following years of her tennis play led Holly from top NCAA honors to professional rankings to her place as the current head coach of the BYU women’s tennis team. She was named head coach in April 2018.

The success Holly achieved not only came from her upbringing, but also the fact that she dedicated her life to the sport she loved. While Holly was one among the handful of hopefuls who actually succeeded in fulfilling her sports related dreams, it was a broken wrist while on the brink of the Tennis World Tour that brought her to where she is now.

Holly Parkinson Hasler was eight years old when she played tennis with her father for the first time. While she was the first to play tennis out of her family of seven, her father knew she was naturally talented in the sport. (Holly Parkinson Hasler)

Holly was just 8 years old when she picked up her first tennis ball. Gripping her racquet, Holly felt that the footwork and eye coordination came almost too easily. She later credited these traits to her athletic genes passed down to her from her parents. 

“(My father and I) went out and played (tennis) and he was just kind of like, ‘Whoa, we have got to get her in tennis,’” Holly said.

Holly Parkinson Hasler poses with her father, Dan Parkinson, after winning the Girl 14’s National Championship. She said he was her number one fan and biggest supporter. (Holly Parkinson Hasler)

While various members of the Parkinson family received accolades in their own sport of choice — her sister an All-American gymnast and her brother a collegiate golf athlete —  Holly said she was the only one drawn to tennis.  

Their athletic accomplishments were because of the family’s belief in the value of sports, which drove each child to choose one sport early on and develop it throughout adolescence. Where most families enjoy resting and relaxing, Holly said her family held a “go, go, go” mentality, which led to success. 

 

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Growing up in chilly New Jersey, Holly said there was little opportunity to play the sport that she loved, so as a young tween, Holly moved to Tampa, Fla., alone, where she would be able to play tennis year-round. 

From seventh through 10th grade, Holly lived with a teammate’s family in order to participate in a Florida tennis academy. 

“Playing tennis at the level I did and knowing my goal was to someday play in the U.S. Open, my life was full of sacrifices,” Holly said. “I missed school dances, family ski trips and even my high school graduation. Although there were sacrifices, I was blessed with opportunities most kids my age only dreamed of having.”

During her junior year, 15-year-old Holly reunited with her family as they moved to Spring, Texas. It was here that she met Walts and trained with him until she reached the age of 18 and prepared herself for college.

Holly Parkinson Hasler meets Coach Butch Walts for the first time at age 15. Walts knew she had the potential to be a professional athlete from the very first time they hit balls together. (Holly Parkinson Hasler)

Being the No. 1 recruit in the nation, Holly had offers from various universities around the U.S. In the end, Holly chose BYU instead of the top-ranked-tennis-school, the University of Florida, because of the school’s religious values.

“I truly, in the end, sat down and I thought to myself, ‘where am I going to be the most happy on the court, but also off the court?’” Holly said. “If I was to go to the University of Florida, which is ranked number one in the country and has the most national titles, and then tear my knee, would I be happy there?”

In 1997, Holly’s contemplations led her to BYU where she was named the WAC Freshman of the Year and an ITA All-American. 

Her collegiate experience was short-lived, however, when Holly decided to go pro after a short one-year term playing at BYU. During the summer, the young tennis player saw her professional ranking move to the world Top 300 in a one-month period. With two pro championships won in a short time span, Holly knew she was nearing her peak.

Holly said the biggest reason for her to turn professional was a win at the ITA NCAA championship. The winner of this tournament was deemed a wild card, which qualified the player for the U.S. Open, the largest U.S. tournament of the year. 

23-year-old Holly Parkinson Hasler played in the U.S. Open after winning the ITA NCAA tournament in July 2002. (Holly Parkinson Hasler)

“I just thought, ‘You know what, I can’t turn this down,'” Holly said. “It’s just too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

With her professional career moving in a positive direction, Holly continued to rack up accolades.

The highs of her career include winning six International Tennis Federation singles titles in 1997-02 and ranking No. 83 in the world-wide Women’s Tennis Association Top 100 in 2000. 

While Holly’s dream had become her reality, it was during her fifth year abroad on the Tennis World Tour that she started to question her happiness as a professional player. 

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she said she felt dismayed by the fact she had never been part of a congregation and wondered how she would meet a potential future spouse. 

While Holly enjoyed her time as a tennis professional, she said she began feeling lonely traveling abroad and wondered how long she would be able to keep up her long-distance competitions. 

23-year-old Holly Parkinson Hasler played for the St. Louis Aces in St. Louis, Mo. (Holly Parkinson Hasler)

During that year, Holly broke her wrist and returned home to heal. Little did she know it would be during this time of recuperation that she would meet her future husband, Blair Hasler.

“Honestly, it was kind of a blessing,” Holly said. 

Blair said that even though Holly’s athletic credentials were impressive, he was most captured by her testimony and the fact that she lived her religion daily. He mentioned that her nickname in the tennis world happened to be “Stormin’,” short for “Stormin’ Mormon.” 

The happy couple was married and shared their honeymoon on tour at the World TeamTennis in 2002. It was only when Holly became pregnant with their first child that her professional career came to a close. Blair said Holly has never looked back. 

“She was going to go back on the tour and then just (happened) to get pregnant,” Blair said. “She flipped the switch like that. There was no question; she was done. She wanted to be a mom.”

Holly can still be seen on the court coaching the BYU women’s tennis team or her own two boys, 14-year-old Caden and 6-year-old Bryson.

BYU assistant coach Dillon Porter said he is excited to work with Holly for the coming 2019-20 season.

“As a player, she was intense with her work ethic,” Porter said. As a coach, he said she demands hard work ethic. She’s passionate and competitive about winning, which has created higher expectations for the women on the team.

Porter claimed that while Holly’s personal career may be over, her legacy will continue on with her sons and the players she teaches on the BYU women’s tennis team.

“College coaching is by far the next best thing to professional tennis,” Holly said of her new position at BYU. “It’s fun to get a combination of everything that I used to be doing.”

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