She didn’t want her tennis career to come to a close just because Wake Forest wasn’t welcoming its seniors back.
Alexis Franco needed to find a new place to play.
“It was a sad moment because something great was coming to an end,” Franco said about the decision her previous school made to deny upperclassmen the additional year of eligibility after the NCAA announced all spring athletes could have one due to the pandemic-shortened season they endured last year.
“But ultimately, it opened up another door,” said Franco, who has since transferred to James Madison and racked up a combined – singles and doubles – record of 25-6 for the Dukes.
JMU won its second straight Colonial Athletic Association title last week and is NCAA Tournament bound again. The Dukes will find out where they’re headed in the national tournament on Monday when the field is released.
“And so just look at where the JMU women’s tennis team is at today,” Franco said. “We had an incredible season and we won the CAA championship and now we’re going dancing.”
The Largo, Fla., native explained that it didn’t take long for her to connect with JMU after putting her name in the transfer portal last spring. Dukes coach Shelley Jaudon and then-assistant Kimmy Guerin, a former Wake Forest teammate of Franco, recruited her to spend her final season of eligibility in Harrisonburg.
“Transfers are transferring for a reason,” Jaudon said. “So, we always try to get to the bottom of that reason. For me, it’s their character. What are they going to bring to our team? How are they going to help our team be better?
“And Lexi was in that unique situation that Wake Forest wasn’t having their seniors back from COVID, so she wasn’t leaving for a bad reason. … I was able to get a really good read on who she is as a person and what characteristics and intangibles she would bring to our team, and it was a no-brainer.”
Franco, coming from a Demon Deacons’ program that had reached the NCAA tournament in her first three seasons there, said she wanted to join a team that was competitive, had goals beyond the regular season and was building a strong culture. In 2019, JMU won the CAA and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in its history.
Franco said she spoke with Jaudon, Guerin and Dukes sophomore Kylie Moulin – another Florida native who Franco played junior tennis with – about the program’s upward trajectory.
“I was nervous about how the team and Shelley would handle me as a fifth-year transfer and me only being here for one year,” Franco said. “But the girls opened up and accepted me with wide arms. I’m friends with the girls on the team and I have great relationships with both them and Shelley. And my fears and my uncertainties were wiped away within the first week or so just getting acclimated to JMU.”
Jaudon said Franco has given the Dukes a boost, too, because of her experience in the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the top tennis leagues in the country.
She’s captured eight straight singles matches and three straight doubles matches while paired with Daria Afanasyeva. Last week, Franco won her CAA Tournament singles match 6-2, 7-5 to help JMU to consecutive conference crowns.
“She brings a personality that’s just infectious toward everybody,” Jaudon said. “[She has] a love for the game, every day showing up with a huge smile and a great attitude and that’s just huge to have on your team on a daily basis, especially on such a small team because one person can sway things positively or negatively. And so, she’s just been a great ambassador for our program.”
Now, Jaudon and Franco are hoping her experience lends itself to helping the Dukes as they seek their first NCAA tournament win. As a sophomore for Wake Forest, Franco and her doubles partner did pick up a point against Georgia in the 2018 NCAA tournament.
“It helps raise the expectations,” Jaudon said. “Two years ago when we won and got to the [NCAA] tournament, it was sort of like big eyes, ‘Hey, first time here. We’ve never done this. We’re playing a Top Five team in the country.’ So already our expectations had changed going into this season and the girls have a different outlook already heading into next weekend, but she just has helped elevate that expectation level immediately with her experience.”