Tempe, AZ – The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) is pleased to announce the four finalists for the ITA Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award as endowed by Billie Jean King. 

Now in its seventh year, the ITA Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award, as endowed by Billie Jean King, was created to honor a recent college graduate who played college tennis, demonstrated excellence in all aspects of being a student-athlete, was a leader on his or her team, and was an influential contributor on his or her college campus and community.

The recipient of the award will have demonstrated grit (i.e. passion and perseverance towards long-term goals), a commitment to social justice and equality, and will have pushed others to be leaders in addition to demonstrating his or her own leadership.

This year’s four finalists, selected for this prestigious award based on their distinguished efforts both on and off the courts, are: Esther Adehina (Tennessee), Eryn Cayetano (USC), Alisha Hussain (ECU), and Andy Mackler (Denison).

Previous winners of this prestigious award include: Nathan Turtledove (St. Lawrence, 2023), Caroline Vincent (Army, 2022), Victoria Flores (Georgia Tech, 2021), Daniel Park (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 2020), Andrew “Drew” Atkins (Duquesne, 2019), and Nithya Kanagasegar (Case Western Reserve, 2018). 

“Another fantastic group of wonderful student-athletes,” remarked ITA CEO, Dr. Timothy Russell. “This award is given by an American and tennis icon and celebrates a great tennis coach and stellar human being. Ester, Eryn, Alisha, and Andy embody the traits and goodness of Billie Jean King and Ann Lebedeff and represent our sport at the highest levels.”

The four 2024 finalists, who have already submitted personal statements as well as letters of support from coaches, teammates, and professors, will now submit a resume and letter from their institution’s President to be reviewed by the ITA Ann Lebedeff Award Selection Panel. Once determined, the winner will be awarded a post-graduate scholarship, while a $1,000 donation will be made to the award winner’s college tennis program from the ITA.

Read more about each of the four finalists below. 

Esther Adeshina | University of Tennessee | NCAA Division I

As a member of the Tennessee women’s tennis team, Esther Adeshina has not only been able to grow athletically but as a person as well, assuming many leadership roles both on her team and in the Knoxville community. During her time at Tennessee, Adeshina has served as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and has also earned the opportunity to participate in The VOLeaders Academy, a program catered to nourish leadership qualities in student-athletes. As a result of taking part in VOLeaders, Adeshina was given the opportunity to spend ten days in the Philippines where she focused on community development and social change through sport. In addition to these, Adeshina has also given back to her community while at Tennessee, volunteering at events and organizations such as the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission, Little Smokies Tennis Club, and Kickball with Curt to name a few. Currently, Adeshina is wrapping up her senior year where she finished tied with the most dual match doubles wins on the team and helped lead the Lady Vols to an 18-7 regular season record. 

Eryn Cayetano | University of Southern California | NCAA Division I

Throughout her career, USC women’s tennis player Eryn Cayetano has not only wowed others with her exceptional play on the court but also with her kindness and dedication to those around her during the five seasons she has played for the Women of Troy. With her sister and her being first-generation college students, Cayetano knew she wanted to make the most of the sacrifices her family made for her not only on the tennis courts but in the community during her time at USC. Around campus, Cayetano has spent time as a member of Troy Philippines, the Trojan Athletic Senate, and the AAPI student-athlete affinity group. Within these organizations, Cayetano has had the opportunity to serve in leadership positions and has helped lead numerous events for the USC community. Additionally, Cayetano spends time at the Pete Brown Tennis Academy and First Break Academy which both aim to provide high-level tennis coaches to low-income families. As a two-time ITA All-American selection, Cayetano has helped lead USC to an 18-8 regular season record this year and hopes to lead the Women of Troy to yet another deep NCAA Tournament run. 

Alisha Hussain | East Carolina University | NCAA Division I

Coming into college, East Carolina women’s tennis player Alisha Hussain only hoped to better herself as a tennis player to reach the professional tour and take her family out of poverty. However, the experiences and people she has met while at East Carolina have reshaped her thinking and have given her opportunities that she could have only dreamed of. Now, as a team leader, Hussain has been named the team captain of her team and also serves as the student representative for the entire East Carolina Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for the American Athletics Conference (AAC). Additionally, Hussain also started the International Student-Athlete Committee (ISAC) at ECU where she meets monthly with other international student-athletes to discuss some of the challenges they might face and how they can better deal with these challenges. Off-campus, Hussain has completed at least 25 hours of community service each semester by mentoring kids, going on hospital visits, and volunteering at her local Ronald McDonald House. This season, Hussain and the Pirates have accomplished an 11-8 regular season record, their best record since the 2018-19 season. 

Andy Mackler | Denison University | NCAA Division III

Starting tennis at the young age of seven, Denison men’s tennis player Andy Mackler has experienced the ebb and flow of emotions tennis has to offer, and these lessons have helped shape him into the man he is today. While at Denison, Mackler has continued to learn much about himself and through his time in college has learned how to better deal with wins and losses, fighting through pain, and taking on new challenges. From these life lessons learned through tennis, Mackler has always tried to lead by example, whether it is mentoring other players on his team or helping those around him in the community. Recently, Mackler helped organize the “De-Stress Tennis Fest” which brought in over 200 campus members for a day full of fun and community. Additionally, Mackler has spent time abroad in Kenya working on a global health project where he was able to give back to those in need and continue his studies in Global Health. This season, Mackler has helped lead Denison to a 19-4 overall record and a berth into the 2024 NCAA Division III Team Championships.

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