Vasileia Griva and Taylor Barrett make history for women’s tennis through national honors


Courtesy / Taylor Barrett and Vasileia Griva

Anthony Clark Jr., Sports Editor

Many student-athletes can say they played at the collegiate level, although few are able to attach their names to historical achievements. Despite the hard work student-athletes put into training behind the scenes and the demanding mental, emotional and physical endurance that’s needed to compete through a season, there’s no guarantee that one will be etched into school record books. 

As two of the top performers for Grand Valley State University women’s tennis, senior Taylor Barrett and junior Vasileia Griva dedication to the program, their teammates and the game itself has always been a top priority. So much so that the pair was ranked No. 12 in the International Tennis Association (ITA) National Doubles rankings ahead of the spring season, making this the highest doubles ranking in GVSU women’s tennis history.

“I was very excited when I received the news about the rankings,” Barrett said. “Not only was I proud of myself, but I was also happy with the way Vas and I competed during the matches we performed together. Breaking history is quite the reward. I believe our hard work paid off and that feeling is very exhilarating.”

Griva echoed the words of her teammate, saying that although she wasn’t anticipating it, the recognition adds more fuel to her drive to compete.

“That made me very happy because I was not expecting that, especially coming from a different country as I didn’t really know how these things work,” Griva said. “I never really cared about it because my expectations weren’t (focused on that). But it gave us the confidence to know that we are doing something good.”

In the midst of setting program records, both players are still learning how to be a cohesive pair considering they had not competed with one another until two weeks prior to the 2022 ITA Division II Women’s Midwest Regionals Championships in September – the same tournament the duo finished as runner-ups for the championship title.

Even with the lack of time to figure out one another’s play styles, the pair believes their mixture of tendencies on and off the court has already developed strong continuity between the two.

“We really complement each other because our games are similar but also different if that makes sense,” Griva said. “It was something new but it still worked out very well – it’s not just about tennis but about what we do off the court.”

“Vas and I played together for the first time during our off-season last semester, so we took that time period to adjust to each other’s game styles,” Barrett said. “Now that our main season is starting, I’m excited to see how far (we can go).”

Both players made sure to note that although individual accolades are great motivators, a huge part of their ambition to win stems from being leaders and mentors for their teammates.

In the current season, the Laker roster consists of predominantly underclassmen with Barrett and Griva being two of four upperclassmen on a team of 10 total players. While in this position, the duo said this helps to grow not only as an athlete, but as an individual outside of sports.

“It’s crazy to think that I used to be in their shoes a couple of years ago, so I know what it’s like,” Barrett said. “I try my best to be there for anyone who is struggling or has any questions on and off the court. I also try to show them that they can have fun at practice (as) tennis is supposed to be fun. You should make the best of it during the four years you’re here… Hopefully, leading by example and showing a healthy balance between the two (will be) valuable.”

Griva agrees with her teammate, but said being in the position of a leader as an international student-athlete adds to the experience since Griva knows what it’s like to find oneself in an unfamiliar situation.

“I was very excited to have a team full of new people because it brought a different culture and generation in a sense,” Griva said. “Having so many new personalities is super fun and I would like to make them feel supported, especially since a lot of them are international students. I know how it feels to not have family or many people you know here. Helping them mentally and emotionally is what I strive to do.”

Head Coach Samantha Schall commented on the pair’s versatility as athletes, mentors and individuals, referring to what she sees each week in practice and during match time.

“They are a strong duo,” Schall said. “They have complimentary game styles and support each other always on the court. I’m so proud of them as they work hard every day – so there is no doubt they have earned these results (of the ITA rankings).”

“Each of them are so steady day in and day out,” Schall said. “You know exactly what to expect from them so their reliability is an asset to the team (that) has done a great job with the preseason training. I am confident that if we keep training well, the results will come.”

Barrett and Griva know that looking too far ahead of the season schedule can disconnect players from their current tasks, but the pair hope to reach their high expectations for themselves and the team this season.

“It would be really nice to win all of our conference matches, however, we know that our conference teams are really good,” Griva said. “It (also) doesn’t matter if Tay and I win our doubles if our team isn’t winning, so we are more focused on making sure everyone is reaching their potential this season.”

“As a doubles team, I’d like to continue what we do best and strengthen our friendship,” Barrett said. “As an individual, finding that healthy balance (of sports and school) is really important because that way it’s less likely to burn out and more likely to stay on top of things – tennis is a mental sport so it’s important to have the support of your teammates and to know your ability in what you can do. Luckily, being doubles partners with Vas, I always have a support system and can count on her to be there for me when I’m feeling down.”

In recent seasons, the Lakers have secured the regular-season conference title (2022 most recent) but the team hasn’t won the GLIAC Tournament championship since 2017. With a tough schedule ahead of them against GLIAC and out-of-conference opponents, the pair hope to see the team in a position to take home the conference championship and more.

Griva knows that so long as she and the team take care of their minds and bodies while focusing on one day at a time, the ceiling of potential is theirs to set. Barrett agrees with her teammate, stating that having each other’s backs during matches and off the court will lead to a promising spring season.

“I do believe we are very much capable of winning the GLIAC Championship, but as we know, it won’t be easy,” Barret said. “As long as we are there for each other during every match, cheer as loud as we can and give it our all, we should be in good (shape to compete).”