When Lauren Villanueva ’16 drove down Colton Avenue for her first visit to the University of Redlands in 2011, she felt she had found the right school for her. Villanueva and her mother, Jane Kihara, met with Director of Tennis Geoff Roche ’96. Later, they received a campus tour from a member of the Bulldog tennis team.
“I came from a small town with close ties,” says Villanueva, a native of El Segundo, California, “and my first impression of Redlands was its strong community.”
At age four, Villanueva and her younger sister learned tennis from their father, Loyd Villanueva. In high school, she initially focused on basketball until injuries led her to dedicate herself to tennis. Lauren recently taught her fiancée, Mike, to play; she says, “Tennis has always been a family sport for me.”
A global business major who studied abroad in Spain her junior year, Lauren’s fondest memories of Redlands include the Bulldog tennis team. “They were my family for four years, and they still are,” she says. She recalls trips with her teammates: piling into a 15-passenger van headed to Santa Cruz, California; seeing snow for the first time in Indiana; and traveling to Kalamazoo, Michigan, for nationals her senior year.
Her father flew to watch her last match, and Lauren treasures that moment, as well as the “grads and dads” tennis match she and her three closest tennis teammates hosted: “Dad and I have shared great memories with Bulldog tennis. The parents in the program had a good experience, too.”
When Roche asked Lauren to help coach tennis at the U of R after graduation, she was initially nervous. “Coaching is a different experience,” she says. “You may have to break some tough news, and, of course, you’re not always going to win.” When forming her coaching style, Lauren looked to mentors like Roche. “Coach [Roche] taught me a lot, both as a person and as a player. Having my players’ backs was the most valuable thing I took from him, as well as the importance
Lauren served as an assistant coach for three seasons while working full-time at Esri, an international supplier of geographic information software, web GIS, and geodatabase management applications. She started as an intern with the company the summer after graduation thanks to an introduction from Lauren’s other former Tennis Coach Steve Marshburn ’01. Five years later, she is working on technology company Esri’s managed cloud services team in project management and consulting. “My Redlands experience gave me a little bit of everything,” Lauren says, “and that helps because I wear a lot of hats!”
Lauren made her first charitable gift to her favorite U of R sport in 2018 and recently pledged a five-year commitment to support the $3 million Tennis Campaign Complex, structuring her contribution in monthly payments.
“I am excited for a new chapter for our courts and the new memories that will be made,” notes Lauren, whose gift will name a bench in Court Three, where she finished her Redlands singles career. “Bulldog tennis is such a big part of who I am today. I believe in the program and want to share that experience with future generations of players and their families.”
The Tennis Campaign Committee is aiming to raise $1 million by Dec. 31, 2021, to begin early construction of the tennis complex in 2022. To learn more about these plans or to get involved, visit foreveryours.redlands.edu/bulldog-athletics or contact Ericka Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 909-748-8357.