Janet Hopps was in her first quarter at Seattle University, finishing up a French class, when her instructor extended a surprising invitation. Father Frank Logan told her she was welcome to join the tennis team.
The men's tennis team.
Hopps had moved to Seattle from Sacramento, Calif., the year before, was attending SU on an academic scholarship and had a wieldy tennis reputation, just that week becoming the No. 1-ranked woman's player in the Pacific Northwest. Logan, the men's tennis coach, made the connection.
For the next three years, Hopps was the No. 1 player on the SU team, beating 70 percent of her male opponents. It was hard on some egos. In her first season in 1954, after she had defeated Oregon State's No. 1 player Pete Carter 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 at Broadway Field, the Beavers coach told people back home that Carter had been distracted by a nearby SU-Oregon State baseball game, by foul balls landing near the court.
In the next breath, Oregon State said it wouldn't host Hopps in a return match in Corvallis, Ore., the following season.
Norm Merrill had other ideas. He was OSU's new No. 1 player and a friend of Hopps'. Against his coach's wishes, Merrill insisted on playing her. The Beavers coach threw up his hands. On April 18, 1955, in a match that would fully establish the SU woman among her male counterparts -- and brought several of Merrill's fraternity brothers out to watch -- Hopps beat him, too, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
"I got them to know that this wasn't a fluke," Hopps said.
With Seattle U returning to full Division I status for the first time in 33 years -- when the Redhawks host Washington in a women's soccer match at Championship Field on Aug. 17 -- this is the second in a series of 33 stories replaying memorable SU events previously held at the NCAA's top level (1952-80).
SU was a forward-thinking university during the 1950s, encouraging the gifted Pat Lesser and Ruth Jessen in golf, and Hopps in tennis, to join its men's teams because there weren't alternatives. Lesser was the 1950 U.S. Junior Girls champion and the 1955 U.S. Women's Amateur winner; Jessen was an LPGA player for two decades, winning 11 times; and Hopps played internationally, advancing to the Wimbledon semifinals and French Open quarterfinals and becoming the world's 11th-ranked woman.
"The really good guys I couldn't beat," Hopps said. "But the guys on the fringe I could beat. I probably knew more tennis than they did. They had good serves, but I had good serves and good ground strokes."
For postseason play, Hopps competed in the Women's All-Collegiate Tennis Tournament, the predecessor to the NCAA Tournament but unsanctioned at the time. She won the singles title three times, and doubles title twice. A year after she completed her eligibility, the event was finally recognized as an NCAA national championship.
Hopps wouldn't receive proper recognition for her college career until she was inducted into the ITA Women's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999. She noted the irony in her placement.
"I never played in [an official] women's match," she said. "I should be in the men's hall of fame."