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Akli Looks Forward to Finishing What She Started, On and Off the Court

by Brad Muller

Ayana Akli isn’t quite ready for her tennis career to end, but South Carolina’s graduate student standout already has some plans for life off the court. She’s looking forward to the upcoming NCAA Tournament as well as finishing her master’s degree.

“I really enjoy building things, and I’ve always enjoyed math,” said Akli, who already has her undergraduate degree in civil engineering and is now working on a master’s in structural engineering. “Originally, I wanted to be a rollercoaster engineer and design rollercoasters. I also want to do something that will really help people, so I want to develop green infrastructure in underdeveloped countries. That’s the main goal right now. I want to travel everywhere.”

Akli, along with football’s Kai Kroeger are South Carolina’s nominees for the H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Post-Graduate Scholarship. The SEC provides the league’s male and female McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year Post-Graduate Scholarship recipients with a $20,000 post-graduate scholarship. The 26 remaining male and female finalists for the award will also receive a $10,000 post-graduate scholarship.

“This is really big,” said Akli, who is hoping her collegiate career will continue for a few more weeks with the start of the NCAA Tournament on May 3. “It speaks to all of the work I put into the classroom as well as on the court. Honestly, I was really shocked.”

Once the NCAA Tournament is over, Akli will begin her professional tennis career, so she will still have to use her time management skills to balance tennis and finishing her master’s work.

“I’ll have time to do more work, but the plan is to keep playing, so I will probably be taking most of my classes online to accommodate for all the travel,” Akli said. “You have to work your way up to the big tournaments that everybody knows about, such as the U.S. Open. I’ll start with smaller tournaments, so I’ll just be grinding and basically playing every week to gain points and build your rankings. I think it will be easier to manage because college tennis is more team stuff, so you have to accommodate everyone on the team’s schedule, and you had a lot of extracurricular stuff. When I leave college, I’ll be setting my own schedule and when I practice.”

Ayana Akli 2023-2024
“It’s important with the platforms that student-athletes have to promote giving back to people.”
Ayana Akli  . 

Akli played in a few professional tournaments last year, which should help in her transition.

Akli has piled up a lot of wins and accolades during her collegiate career. She earned ITA All-American honors in singles and doubles last year and is a three-time All-SEC honoree. She was the ITA Fall National Runner-Up last November and this season has been ranked as high as No. 3 nationally in singles and No. 10 in doubles. She has earned numerous academic awards, including ITA Scholar Athlete honors in 2022 and was the SEC Women’s Tennis Scholar-Athlete of the Year this year. She also took home South Carolina’s prestigious President’s Award this year, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Athletics Department and is given annually to one student-athlete in his/her final year of eligibility to recognize a career of extraordinary talent in athletics, scholarship, leadership, and service.

“Along with the (McWhorter) Scholarship, the President’s Award was probably one of the biggest things for me,” Akli said. “It really emphasized all the work that I’ve put in on the court and in the classroom, along with a lot of community service. I really love this University, and to get an award that some other really great people have won, it means a lot to be considered as someone of that stature.”

Off the court, Akli led the team in community service hours, taking part in numerous events including the 9/11 flag day event in which a memorial display is temporarily put on campus, participating in a firetruck pull with proceeds benefitting Curing Kids Cancer, and assisting with various Student-Athlete Advisory Council donation drives that benefited the local community. She frequently visited local schools in Richland County where she read to students and participated in the Read Across America event. She also participated in South Carolina’s “Sandstorm Buddies” program in which student-athletes read to patients at the local children’s hospital. Akli is a member of South Carolina’s Dream on 3 team which provided a dream weekend for a child with illness. Akli also did volunteer work for the FCA’s Special Olympics and volunteered at South Carolina’s USTA Kids Day.

“It’s important with the platforms that student-athletes have to promote giving back to people,” Akli said. “The University has given so much to us, and I’m grateful to be in the position that I am. With all that we have, it’s only right to give back to the community and especially to other students and kids. It’s important to show kids that you can do both. You can study and do math and play sports. I just love kids, so I loved going to the elementary schools.

“We recently did the Gamecock Games where we did a field day with kids who have different types of disabilities. We get assigned a buddy and play with them all day and play lots of different games. It’s a great event.”

The McWhorter Post-Graduate Scholarship recipients are chosen by a committee of Faculty Athletics Representatives from the 14 SEC institutions and are announced in May, as well as honored by the league membership at SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla.