As a walk-on and member of the UCLA men’s tennis team last year as a sophomore, Reid Ponder had achieved a lifelong dream of not only playing Division I college tennis, but playing for a perennially nationally ranked powerhouse like the Bruins.
When the 21-year-old San Diego native was given the unfortunate news that there would not be a roster spot for him on the team this season, Ponder turned a negative into a positive, and knew he still wanted to be part of the Bruins’ family. So he took the offer to become the team’s manager.
“Last year I grew pretty close to some of the guys,” Ponder said recently before the Bruins traveled to the ITA National Indoors tournament. “Having a roster spot didn’t work out for me this year, and I understood. It wasn’t just a team; they were also my friends. And I didn’t want to lose that.”
Ponder can still recall the joy he felt when he was told last year he had made a Bruins team stacked with some of Southern Californians best young players. “Last year I loved it,” said Ponder, who spent his freshman year as an independent player setting up his own matches and practices with other fellow UCLA students. “When Billy called me in I walked into his office and there was a warm and happy vibe in there and everyone was smiling. Then Billy told me the news that they had a spot on the roster to offer me. He said some players had gotten hurt and that there was a spot for one season. I was blown away.”
Ponder is a Psychobiology major who intends to go to medical school someday.
“I chose UCLA for the academics,” he said. “But I wanted to play college tennis. After high school I didn’t want to be done. I wanted to see how good I could get if I could stick with it for another couple of years. But I just didn’t find any tennis programs that were a fit for me. So I thought I could try and walk-on.
Ponder said meeting someone like former UCLA assistant coach and current SMU head coach Grant Chen helped him as Chen encouraged him to try out for the team. Chen had once served as the Bruins’ team manager, and even headed up the UCLA Tennis On Campus team before becoming an assistant to Martin.
“Meeting Grant helped a lot,” Ponder said. “He reached out to me. If he didn’t reach out to me then I don’t think I would have pursued a walk-on spot.”
Ponder attended high school at Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley. His father started playing recreation tennis when Ponder was younger, and entered his first USTA tournament at the age of 11.
Ponder’s coach as a junior was Skip Strode, the father of top SoCal player Isaiah Strode.
Ponder’s duties include a little bit of everything. “The team room gets pretty messy,” said Ponder, who said he his closest friend on the team is Lucas Bellamy. “So I pick it up as much as possible. I run errands for the staff and when it rains we have blowers to dry the courts. I go to the mail room for the coaches, do laundry. Whatever they need. Every little bit helps. Now that season is starting it’s going to be busier.”
Even though Ponder’s role at the Pac-12 Championships in April at The Ojai will be different, he will always have last year’s clinching win over USC as a special memory not soon to be forgotten. “It was just amazing,” he said. “I was watching the match that clinched. We ran onto the court. After all the work we had done to see it pay off with a Pac-12 title was really incredible.”