Uchijima is Temple’s next tennis star

Despite losing her doubles partner and facing an injury, Maiko Uchijima is set to build off her freshman year and find even more success.

Maiko Uchijima (left) and Jamie Wei (right) high-fiving after winning a point against Rider University. March 30, 2023. | RJ FRANCESCHINI / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Women’s Tennis player Maiko Uchijima spent her childhood playing with a ball and racquet for fun at a nearby court in her hometown, Toyama, Japan, before developing a serious love for the sport during high school. 

After years of focusing on a tennis career, sophomore Uchijima has become a standout for head coach Steve Mauro’s team, qualifying for the ITA Fall National Championships quarterfinals for the second straight year this past November.

Following an impressively successful freshman season, Uchijima is taking a big step forward to prove she can be a star player in the spring, despite adjusting to a new partner and an injury in the fall.

“I think her game has developed a lot more,” said Temple assistant coach Frederika Girsang. “We’re happy that she made [her] second nationals in a row, even reaching the quarterfinals with two different doubles partners. I think that’s a pretty amazing feat.”

As a freshman, Uchijima recognized she wasn’t as outspoken as she wanted to be, so she made changes in her role on the team. Now, she is a leader on and off the court, using her voice to give tips to the younger players and leading by example.

“I think she seems a little bit more vocal this year,” Girsang said. “Coming off her freshman year, she was just trying to adapt to the environment. I think her personality has been a little bit more out there. I feel like she’s more comfortable with all the girls on the team.”

In her first season on Broad Street, Uchijima and graduate student Jamie Wei took the court by storm, making it to the ITA National Championships quarterfinals before falling to a group from the University of Michigan.

The pair continued their success into the spring, as they finished with a 26-4 record and ranked as the 35th doubles team in the country after reaching as high as No. 5 in November 2022.

When Wei graduated, Uchijima was left with high expectations but without a partner. She felt the pressure to recreate what she was able to do for her sophomore campaign.

“I had a really good result last fall,” Uchijima said. “So of course, everyone, like [my] coaches, expect me to at least go to the semifinals this year. That was kind of like pressure for me. I just tried to enjoy one match [at a time], and that helped me a lot.”

Uchijima knew she could play at the same level she did on the road to nationals, but she needed a partner who could fill Wei’s shoes. Fortunately, her problem was solved when graduate student Samantha Nanere transferred to the team from Samford University over the summer.

At first, Uchijima was hesitant about adapting to a new doubles partner; the two only had a few months to find the chemistry they needed to succeed on the court. However, they quickly became friends off the court after team bonding events in the city brought the pair closer. The bond they created made their teamwork and chemistry on the court easy.

“We spend a lot of time with the team outside of the court,” Nanere said. “I think that’s why we get on the court because we get along outside of the court. That helps with our game, we know what we’re gonna do.”

However, Uchijima and Nanere only played one set together before nationals this fall because Uchijama suffered an injury in September, which kept her off the court for nearly a month. 

As the competition approached and Uchijima recovered, the two weren’t sure how they’d perform on the big stage with little experience as a duo.

But Uchijima and Nanere shattered any doubt, cruising through the competition before ultimately losing in the quarterfinals. Uchijima made her second straight ITA fall quarterfinal appearance, and both players were named the American Athletic Conference Women’s Tennis Players of the Month in October.

“Last year, I was playing with a different partner, so there were no pressures and everything was different because I was a freshman,” Uchijima said. “This year, I enjoyed playing a lot, and at least I had the same result as last year. I couldn’t play better, but I’m happy with that.”

While her doubles work has been praised, Uchijima’s play in singles competitions has been just as successful. Last spring, she dominated her opponents, finishing with a record of 22-2. She had the highest win percentage with 15 and the 10th most dual singles wins with 15 in 2023 in Temple history.

Now, Uchijima and Nanere are ranked No. 20 in the country, and Uchijima’s focus has now shifted to coming back in January and continuing her success in Cherry and White.

“We’ll try to win all our matches and keep our rank,” Uchijima said. “[The goal] is to go to NCAA national championships again like that year.”

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