Rachael James-Baker has traveled extensively throughout her collegiate tennis career, but feels most comfortable in the state of North Carolina.
Baker enters her final season as a Tar Heel, at the end of a collegiate tennis experience filled with many twists and turns, the beginnings of which weren’t rooted in Chapel Hill but the North Carolina state capital of Raleigh.
Baker knew from an early age she didn't want to move too far from her home and family in Florida. So, when she came out of high school in 2012, she committed to NC State.
"NC State checked almost all of the boxes," said Baker, whose family moved from her childhood home in Detroit to the Plantation/Ft. Lauderdale area for her high school career to help aid her development as a tennis player.
NC State initially proved to be an excellent decision. Baker spent two years with the squad, working on her game and adjusting to the grind of college tennis. However, a coaching change led Baker to transfer after making her mark in Raleigh.
"I had such a positive experience there and thought I would graduate as a Wolfpacker," Baker said.
But it wasn't to be. Baker transferred to Baylor and joined a highly accomplished athletics and academic program in the state of Texas. Although further from her family, Baker trusted that Baylor would be a great fit in all aspects. Unfortunately, while her sophomore season as a Bear was successful on the court (she posted a 14-9 record in singles), but off the court it wasn't what she wanted.
"It was a difficult experience for me," Baker said. "I was playing some of my best tennis but, mentally, I was down."
Baker described herself as “an emotional wreck” toward the end of May 2015, without a commitment to a new team. Little did she know though, she'd soon make her way back to the state of North Carolina. UNC came calling and made her decision easy.
This time, Baker recognizes how happy she is about new life as a Tar Heel.
“I love the school, I love the coach, and I love the girls,” Baker told HERO.
With a second transfer, Baker had to sit through a redshirt year between her junior and senior seasons, but the wait was completely worth it. During her year off, Baker spent time building her relationship with the team off the court, and preparing for her final year of college tennis.
Now that she's there, Baker knows her value of her time at UNC will not be measured in wins and losses.
“I just want to have the best experience I can which is not based on the records and results,” Baker said.