Tempe, Ariz. – The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) is pleased to announce today the selection of University of Tennessee’s Esther Adeshina as the 2024 ITA Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award Winner as endowed by Billie Jean King.

“Esther is one example of what’s great about college tennis,” said ITA Chief Executive Officer Dr. Timothy Russell. “Amidst the environment of rapid and tectonic change within the arena of college athletics, some things remain constant – the importance of higher education,  modeling the way for a team, and living a life of high values, aspiration, and hard work. Esther embodies these traits, and follows in the shining light that Ann Lebedeff left burning brightly on our sport.”

Adeshina will be honored with a postgraduate scholarship and special recognition at the ITA Leadership Awards Weekend in New York later this year. Additionally, the Tennessee women’s tennis team will be awarded a $1,000 donation from the ITA in her honor.

“I speak for everyone here at the University of Tennessee when I say just how proud we are of Esther,” proclaimed Tennessee Head Women’s Tennis Coach Alison Ojeda. “She represents our mission, vision, and core values to a T! The fact that the ITA also sees that and has awarded her the national recipient of the Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award just means that much more. Just like Ann Lebedeff, Esther is a champion on and off the tennis court. Esther makes everyone around her better while always choosing to help others. Congratulations, Esther!”

Introduced to the sport of tennis at the age of six, Adeshina attributes many of the skills she possesses today to the valuable experiences, both favorable and challenging, she has learned through tennis. Coming to Tennessee from Great Britain, Adeshina knew that this big transition in her life could serve as a catalyst for personal growth and leadership opportunities on campus as well as in the Knoxville community. 

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.

Additionally, Adeshina has also spent time volunteering at events and organizations such as the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission, Little Smokies Tennis Club, and Kickball with Curt to name a few. With the Little Smokies Tennis Club, a ten-and-under tennis clinic hosted by Tennessee, Adeshina has made a positive impact on countless kids and their families, promoting the growth of tennis in the greater Knoxville area.

On the court, she has been a leader for the Lady Vols as well, helping the team to a 22-8 record this past season, including an upset victory in the Sweet Sixteen over top-seeded and previously undefeated Oklahoma State before reaching the semifinals of the NCAA Team Championship.

Throughout it all, Adeshina attributes tennis to teaching her discipline, time management, teamwork, networking, perseverance, resilience, patience, communication, and accountability which all led her down a path of discovery into the leader she has become today as her time in college tennis comes to a close. 

“I am incredibly honored to receive this prestigious award,” stated Adeshina. “Being nominated alongside fellow finalist student-athletes who love their sport and are actively involved in their community is humbling. I am very grateful for the opportunities tennis has given me. As a student-athlete at the University of Tennessee, I have not only grown as an individual but also as a leader within my team and community. It has been a privilege to be a Lady Volunteer representing the University of Tennessee on and off the court. I aim to continue the ethos of creating positive social change and giving back to the community wherever I go.”

The ITA Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award as endowed by Billie Jean King was created to honor a recent college graduate who played college tennis and demonstrated excellence on and off the court, leadership on his or her team as well as on his or her college campus and in his or her 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 leadership.

Adeshina is the seventh recipient of the award. She joins Nathan Turtledove of St. Lawrence University (2023), Caroline Vincent of Army (2022), Victoria Flores of Georgia Tech (2021), Daniel Park of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (2020), Andrew Akins of Duquesne (2019), and Nithya Kanagasegar of Case Western Reserve (2018) as winners of the award.

About the ITA – The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) is the governing body and coaches association of college tennis, both an advocate and an authority for the sport and its members. Comprised of 1,260 colleges and universities, 20,000 student-athletes, 1,700 varsity programs, 3,000 coaches, and 1,350 college tennis officials, the ITA empowers college tennis coaches at all levels to deliver vibrant tennis programs that are vital to their college communities and transformational to their student-athletes. Follow the college tennis season on the ITA website and ITA social channels on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube.

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