Rudra Dixit, the first freshman in Parsons history to win an SEK League tennis singles title, is still searching for a true home.
Now a sophomore with the Nebraska tennis team in the Big Ten, Dixit spent this past spring playing at Iowa.
Because Iowa cut the tennis program as part of a budget cut related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dixit was on campus at Iowa in the fall for less than a week before the school’s athletic director, Gary Barta, called a meeting of student-athletes from four sports.
On a Saturday morning, Barta informed athletes from men’s tennis, men’s gymnastics and swimming and diving that their programs would be cut at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
“We were promised four years at that school and four years of education,” Dixit said. “To see that go in an instant seemed very unfair. It was very, very frustrating.”
Iowa made the move in an effort to save an estimated $5 million. Since the move, the women’s swimming and diving team has been reinstated after a lawsuit alleged the move violated Title IX.
However, Dixit and other members of the tennis program felt they got the short end of the stick after Big Ten football, the school’s biggest source of revenue, proceeded in the fall.
“I was happy when I got recruited by Iowa and got to go play in the Big Ten,” Dixit said. “I got there on a Saturday about a week before school was supposed to start. Five days later, we got a surprise email about a meeting with 80 other athletes. There, the athletic director walked in and told us they were cutting four sports. It was a complete shock for me and everyone there.”
In just one year at Parsons in 2017, Dixit established himself as one of the most storied players in school history. He finished fourth at state after a semifinal loss in the singles bracket where he cramped up. Dixit won the SEK League and regional title that year.
After that season, Dixit moved to Olathe to finish his last three years of schooling while training at the Overland Park Racquet Club.
“I was training there every single day,” Dixit said. “During the school year, it’d be five hours a day. During the summer, it was eight hours.”
That move helped Dixit secure the scholarship offer to Iowa, an NCAA Division I school in the Big Ten.
“Rudra was always looking for the next thing to do to get better,” former Parsons head coach Jane Posch said. “It was only a matter of time before he got good enough to not be playing high school tennis. His goal, at some point, was to be a professional tennis player and a Division I tennis player.”
This spring, Dixit and his Iowa teammates spent the season walking a green mile.
“It was extremely tough,” Dixit said. “Committing to Iowa had been a dream come true. But then with what happened, we felt like we were playing with no purpose. It was tough. We couldn’t find motivation some days.”
Iowa’s men’s tennis players decided to make a statement to an athletic department they felt wasn’t supportive in their plight.
“Our athletic director hadn’t been supportive of sports that weren’t football,” Dixit said. “That year, after we got cut, we asked for meetings with the A.D. multiple times. Nobody would communicate us. They gave us no reasoning.”
This spring, the Iowa players refused to wear Iowa Hawkeyes branded gear during matches. Instead, the team opted for red Nike shirts and black Nike shorts, which each athlete paid for out of their pockets.
“We went with the different colors because if that school didn’t want our program, we didn’t want their colors,” Dixit said. “We were playing for ourselves and everybody on our team and not the school that turned its back on us.”
Dixit competed in six singles and six doubles matches this spring and won two doubles matches. His first doubles win came over a nationally-ranked Michigan State duo at the Big Ten Championships.
“My goal throughout the whole season, and even now, is to keep improving and keep getting better,” Dixit said. “I still want more opportunities to play.”
Before the spring season ever started, Dixit made the decision to transfer to Nebraska at season’s end. NCAA student-athletes that are members of teams that are cut from the school are granted transfer waivers, so Dixit is immediately eligible to play for the Cornhuskers in the spring of 2022.
“I wanted to stick to my dream of playing in a big conference,” Dixit said. “I was able to meet with the Nebraska coach and they gave me a scholarship.”
Dixit’s endgame, though, has shifted as he now hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor.
“My dream choice would be to get into orthopedic surgery,” Dixit said. “Nebraska has a medical school. I don’t know where I’ll end up going, but for now I’ll focus on my biology major. We’ll see where I go from there.”
The move to Nebraska also keeps Dixit at Power Five conference school.
“Nebraska seemed like one of the better places to go with me trying to get into medicine,” Dixit said. “It seemed like the ideal place for me to move forward in a positive way. I’m shooting for what I’m still trying to achieve.”
The one-time Parsons great has spent the last year recovering from being one of the many athletic cutbacks the pandemic forced upon colleges across the country.
“I really enjoyed my time at Iowa,” Dixit said. “To leave was really sad. I was nervous about coming to Nebraska. I committed blindly — I hadn’t even been to the university. But now that I’m here, I’m really enjoying it. I love how Nebraska treats its athletes. They do a much better job.”
But the setback has made Dixit battle-hardened.
“My year at Iowa was a year for me to mature and learn about life,” Dixit said. “It was a transformative year for me as a person. You can’t plan as much, so never take anything for granted.”
And he still sets the standard for what’s possible for young tennis players in his hometown of Parsons.
“Whenever he’s back in town, he always wants to hit with the kids,” Posch said. “That lets all our kids see what good looks like. Rudra’s a different level. It’s definitely impacted our boys team because they see what it takes to be good. They realize that they’re only limited by the amount of time and effort they want to put into it.”