Thais Mendez is the first recipient of the Venus Williams Tennis Scholarship.
The scholarship, named after distinguished IU East alumna and accomplished professional tennis player Venus Williams, was endowed by Larry and Jane Richards.
Mendez is from Viña del Mar, Chile. She is a junior business administration major.
“This scholarship certainly means a lot to me as a tennis player and as a student,” Mendez said. “First, to receive a scholarship that has the name of a great tennis player is incredible, and at the same time to know that she studied here at this university, makes it even better. This scholarship helps me to finance extra things for the university so it is a great support since everything here tends to be more expensive than in my country. I am very grateful to IU East for granting me this scholarship.”
Mendez signed with IU East as a transfer in July 2018. She has played tennis since 2002. Mendez played at NCAA Division II West Liberty University before she transferred to play tennis at IU East this year.
Erskine Ratchford, head coach for women’s tennis, said Mendez personifies what it means to be a student-athlete. He noted she makes an effort to improve as a player, but also helps her fellow teammates as well to be better. For this reason, she serves as the team captain.
“I’m really excited to have Thais on our team,” Ratchford said. “She’s not only an outstading player, but also an outstanding person. She continues to get better. She is going to be a real force in our conference.”
While at West Liberty, Mendez was the No. 1 singles player for most of the 2017-18 season. She finished the year with a 13-6 overall singles record and also a 13-6 record at No. 1 doubles. West Liberty reached the NCAA Division II regional tournament. She was No. 20 in the ITA NCAA Division II Atlantic Region singles rankings and No. 3 in the region doubles rankings. She made the all-conference team during the fall season.
Assistant women’s tennis coach Ty Butler said, “Thais has been a positive influence on the team since the day she arrived on campus. We are thrilled to have her join the Red Wolf family and contribute to IU East on and off the tennis court. With her athletic capabilities, the opportunities are endless this season. Thais is the perfect student athlete to be given this scholarship.”
At IU East, Mendez won the top singles and doubles divisions at the River States Conference Individual Tournament held the first weekend of September in Lexington, Kentucky.
Mendez was runner-up at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Midwest Regional on September 15, with wins against two of the top five NAIA players in the Midwest. The weekend tournament was IU East’s first visit at an ITA regional competition.
IU East is an NAIA program. The Red Wolf women’s tennis program posted IU East’s highest team GPA this past school year. The IU East women’s tennis team qualified for the River States Conference championship match in 2017.
“I played national and international tournaments, where I did well but then I decided to start my university studies in Chile,” Mendez said. “I feel it (transferring to IU East) has been the best decision I could make. I am very happy with my teammates and my coaches. I think I will improve a lot here, as an athlete and student.”
Larry Richards served as executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at IU East during the period 2004-15, with a one year appointment as interim chancellor (2012-13). Jane Richards was an adjunct lecturer in mathematics over this period of time. They are now both retired.
“We are excited to see this scholarship go to someone of the caliber and potential of Thais. We wish her well with her tennis and studies,” Richards said.
Joe Griffin, IU East athletic director, said the scholarship provided by the Richards is a useful tool in recruiting.
“We are very grateful to the Richards for supporting IU East tennis. Scholarships are so important to the student-athlete and to the program. It helps us recruit talented student-athletes. I know Thais is excited to be here and to be the first to receive the Venus Williams Scholarship,” Griffin said.
Williams was the first student to graduate under the agreement that IU East has with the Women’s Tennis Benefits Association (WTBA). The WTBA agreement supports WTA players who wish to complete their bachelor’s degrees while continuing to play professionally. The agreement makes IU East the sole provider of online bachelor degree level education for WTA players.
For more information on the tennis program at IU East, visit iueredwolves.com.