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Jocelyn Massey's journey spans rodeo rings to tennis courts

New Mexico roots led her to California then KU, where she continues to strive for greatness

5 min read
KU senior Jocelyn Massey looks across the net during a recent KU tennis match. [Kansas Athletics photos]
🎶 Well, it’s bulls and blood, it’s the dust and mud, it’s the roar of a Sunday crowd. It’s the white in his knuckles, the gold in his buckle, he’ll win the next go-'round. 🎶

When Garth Brooks gave that colorful description of the rodeo in his eponymous song, "Rodeo," he unsurprisingly didn’t mention tennis.

For one rodeo star-turned-Kansas University tennis athlete, though, the road to victory on the court traveled through those dusty arenas.

Jocelyn Massey spent her early years in rural southern New Mexico and did rodeo because, well, it was just what you did. There wasn’t much else, really.

Her family was in the ranch business and had horses on their small farm, so she and her sisters learned to ride and honed their skills at barrel racing, goat tying and other events. 

Life changed when she was about 10 and they moved to a more populated area of the state. Her mother, who played tennis growing up and later played in college at New Mexico State, signed Massey and her sisters up for some time on the courts. 

“She wanted us to get into sports and thought that would be a good sport to play,” Massey told R1S1 Sports. “In the beginning, I really just wanted to be like my mom and play college tennis, but I grew to start loving the sport and wanted to play for myself, as well.”

Rodeo continued to be a part of Massey's life up through her sophomore year of high school. And she found success, most notably turning in the fastest barrel racing time at a major 4-H competition in Albuquerque one year. She dabbled in volleyball, as well. Tennis, however, increasingly took center stage as she played in tournaments as far away as Florida. 

With college approaching, she decided to continue her tennis pursuits at Saint Mary’s College of California. She found continued success there for two seasons, but felt that the Bay Area school didn’t fit her, and she didn’t want to “plateau” in her tennis development.

“It was a good school, and I appreciated the opportunity they provided me, but it wasn’t my place,” Massey said. “I started to look for something to push me a little more and get me out of my comfort zone.”

That led her to the transfer portal, where Kansas took notice.

KU women’s coach Todd Chapman had been aware of her coming out of high school but didn’t feel then that she was quite polished enough for Big 12 play. After seeing two years of improvement at Saint Mary’s, though, Chapman pushed for her the second time around. 

“She’s an extremely hard worker with a blue-collar mindset, which fits well with the identity of our program,” Chapman told R1S1 Sports. “We hang our hat on hard workers who want to put in the time and get better and be coached, and she touched all of those right away. She had a desire to go somewhere and see how good she could really be.”

Massey also liked the Kansas work ethic, but her new path didn’t unfold like a Hollywood story right away.

Her first year at KU was often a challenge on the courts as she learned a new system, new techniques and a new rhythm. A strong roster left her playing only doubles much of the time, although she and her talented partner Carmen Roxana Manu did compile 11 match victories. Massey posted only one singles win as she shuffled in and out of the top six. 

“It was kind of hard to take it all in,” she said. “You were playing two years a different way, and now you have to change. It was definitely a challenge at first to learn and adapt to how Kansas tennis should be played.”

Chapman also noticed that Massey often got stuck inside her head last year. When points would go adversely or a couple of mistakes would occur, he saw Massey’s mental approach fraying.

“Jocelyn is probably her own worst critic,” Chapman said. “In tennis, you have a max of 60 or 90 seconds between games to get it all together, and 30 seconds between points. If you have long-term memory when you lose a point, you’re in a tough spot. You have to flush the last point and move forward. Jocelyn really struggled with that last year on the singles side, but I see her taking steps forward this (season) already.”

In fact, her overall game is much stronger this year, he said, as she settled in and showed promising results in the team’s early tournaments. Earlier this month, she won on both the singles and doubles side at the Duel in the Desert and Chapman said the KU senior from Las Cruces, New Mexico, has demonstrated gains in her “competitive maturity.”

That might be particularly important for the 2023-2024 schedule, as Massey has pivoted from transfer newcomer to being the only senior on the team. Chapman said Massey has always been a “leader by example,” but now has found her leadership voice and greater confidence on the tennis court.

Massey hopes she can bring that veteran presence to the Jayhawks, too.

“We have a young team and a bunch of new transfers, so as well as trying to lead by example I really want to show them how we’re trying to build the culture at Kansas: hard-working, putting the team before yourself, just trying to build the team,” she said. “Especially for the young players, I want to go out there and work as hard as I can so they see what’s expected.”

Kansas finished in the top five in the conference and the top 25 nationally last year, so a good foundation has been laid. Massey and Chapman feel matching or exceeding those marks is within reach this year, especially with six players —including Massey — returning.

If the arc of growth for her and others continues, big things could be possible.

“It’s just a cool story of someone continuing to persevere,” Chapman said. “She puts a lot of time and effort into her craft. My hope is that it all comes together this year for her.”

Off the court, Massey is finishing up an accounting major with plans to become a CPA and do tax returns. She already has an internship in Nashville lined up for next summer. 

And while she’s no longer leaping barrels or chasing down and subduing goats, she feels more ready for the next round thanks to what she’s already gained in her KU tennis career. 

“Every day going on the tennis court is a new challenge here,” she said. “It’s been overwhelming at times, but it taught me to embrace being uncomfortable and being resilient. I’m really grateful to my coaches because life after tennis is going to be hard, with moments when you’re uncomfortable. Learning to deal with those makes you stronger, and that’s something being at Kansas has prepared me for.”

Massey and the Jayhawks will return to action on Friday at 10 a.m. in Columbus, Ohio, where they'll face Arizona State in the ITA Kickoff Tournament. On Saturday, the Jayhawks will play either Ohio State or Notre Dame.

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