There’s no denying Alina Jurca’s passion for her team. As captain of the University of Alberta Pandas, the 21-year-old Edmonton native has only one goal in mind for this summer’s University Championships: reclaiming the national title her team won in 2017.

“That is my expectation for the team, especially since I’ve pushed them so hard for practice and fitness this year,” Jurca says. “I think we realize that we really need to just keep on pushing throughout the summer. Everyone’s training hard, everyone is still working toward their tennis and fitness goals, and the expectation is to win.”

Pandas head coach Russ Sluchinski agrees that Jurca sets a high standard but leads by example. “Alina brings a good mix of toughness and compassion to the table,” he says.

Jurca has experienced both the highs and lows of the University Championships. She was part of the winning team in her first year as a Panda, and narrowly missed defending that title last year, losing the final 4-3 to Université de Montréal. When asked about the experience of winning the title in 2017, she says excitedly, “It was amazing to represent our school, just to know that what I worked towards mattered and the experience after winning was amazing from our university and our fellow varsity athletes. The support was tremendous, so it was a really great experience.” Jurca knows the win won’t come easily this year. “I’ve noticed a huge level of competition increase just in my three years of playing,” she says. “The competition is really good.”

Although tennis has been a part of her life since she first picked up a racquet at age five, Jurca increasingly understands the importance of balance and time management during her time as a student-athlete at the U of A. After finishing high school, she made the decision to go to a university that offered a team environment to continue her tennis career while also focusing on academics. An economics major, Jurca appreciates the support she receives from her coaches and resources on campus.

As captain, Jurca strives to maintain the close bonds that team members have with each other. “How I keep them motivated is just by building that team environment every single day. I look at the team more as a family than a team. I want them all to look at it the same way so that when it gets to those high pressure situations, we’re there supporting each other the whole way.”

One way Jurca is helping her teammates prepare for the National Championships is by creating pressure situations in practice. “You definitely feel the pressure; it’s tough to explain it to them because you don’t experience it in juniors. You don’t get to play on Rogers Cup courts with that kind of intensity and people watching you, but we prepare through match play and playing as many tournaments as we can. We’re definitely working on our endurance and as the summer progresses towards nationals we just want to up our fitness for sure.”

Jurca, a fan of defending Rogers Cup champion Simona Halep, relishes the opportunity to play for another national title. “It would mean so much more now because I know what it felt like to lose the second year and I guess I have this leadership role now, so it would be amazing.”

Don’t miss the chance to see the University of Alberta Pandas go for the gold at the National Championships, held alongside the final weekend of the women’s Rogers Cup, August 10-11 at the Sobeys Stadium on the grounds of York University in Toronto. Please contact sronan@tenniscanada.com for ticket information.