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June 2, 2020

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One Tough Cookie: Sammi Hampton finishes strong on tennis court

Abbreviated season at Arizona State disappointing, but cookie business shows promise

By , Columbian sports staff
Published:
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Arizona State redshirt senior Sammi Hampton, a graduate of Skyview High School, finished the abbreviated spring tennis season with six wins in a row.
Arizona State redshirt senior Sammi Hampton, a graduate of Skyview High School, finished the abbreviated spring tennis season with six wins in a row. (Arizona State Athletics photo) Photo Gallery

Suddenly it was over.

Just like that.

“All within a matter of three hours. I’m not even kidding,” said Skyview High grad Sammi Hampton on the end of her college tennis career last month at Arizona State due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But she can still bake.

It has been an eventful, if not abbreviated, final year of college for the four-time high school singles state champion.

In addition to playing No. 2 in singles and doubles for the Sun Devils, Hampton started her own cookie company called, of course, Sammi’s Cookie Co. Visitors to her website will see that Sammi’s is the “Home of the Cakie.”

The pandemic has put a temporary hold on the sale of “cakies” — a mix between a cake and a cookie — but not Hampton’s enthusiasm.

She graduated from ASU in 2019 with a degree in English and has been taking business classes this school year, which was her redshirt senior season for tennis.

And she was also baking cookies, er, cakies.

“This last semester as a side gig, and it was totally a fluke,” said Hampton said of her startup. “I posted on social media that I made extra cookies and does anyone want them? And it went huge, like blew up.”

She went on to sell cookies on Instagram to people she knew like fellow ASU athletes and students (perfectly legal by NCAA regulations in this case) and made a profit.

So she wanted to continue that.

“It’s just so funny how things work out,” Hampton said.

What didn’t work out so well was the premature end of the college tennis season mostly because of how well Hampton was playing.

She had won in both singles and doubles in her last three matches while playing on the No. 2 court for the Sun Devils. She was also 94th in women’s singles in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.

Despite playing just singles in high school, Hampton came to love doubles, and success followed. When partnered with best friend, senior Savannah Slaysman of Phoenix, Hampton was undefeated at No. 2 doubles this season.

“When I arrived, I knew nothing about doubles,” Hampton said. “You need to be so close to the net. Trust me, I don’t want to be anywhere near the net. I don’t want to volley. I’m a groundstroker!”

Being paired with an upperclassman for the first two years helped Hampton adapt to playing doubles.

“I never would have imagined I would be a doubles player, I thought I’d always play singles,” Hampton said. “In doubles I’m never mad or sad. In singles you get mad at yourself. But in doubles you have that other person there, and an obligation to stay happy and make sure they are happy too.”

Sadness did come the weekend of March 13 when the Sun Devils traveled to Colorado for a Pac-12 Conference match. That was when the NCAA made the announcement everything was canceled.

First it was just their match against the Buffaloes. Then it became much more.

Hampton was on an airport shuttle with her teammates when head coach Sheila McInerney showed her players the message from the NCAA.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Hampton said. “The day before we were worried about the weather! We didn’t know if we were going to play indoors or outdoors. All of a sudden it’s like ‘oh yeah, no, just kidding, you’re not playing for the rest of the season.’ ”

It would be the second time while at ASU that Hampton would lose a season. She missed her junior year in 2018 with a knee injury. That was a first: No tennis for about a year.

“The worst part when I came back (for her redshirt junior year in 2019) physically I was normal, my movement was great, but mentally, boy, you take a year off from tennis and your competitive mindset and focus was gone,” Hampton said.

She said she wasn’t believing in herself and not trusting her movement.

“It was a very long battle,” she said. “It was such a downer to me because I wasn’t playing to my potential.”

Hampton worked hard in the offseason, the switch flipped and she was good to go for one more year.

“Sammi has many great attributes, but I believe one that makes her successful is the fact that she loves to compete,” McInerney said via email. “While Sammi enjoys the technical side of tennis and drilling, she would rather play points, games or sets. More of a ‘BRING IT ON!’ mentality.”

Hampton attributes much of her success to support from her parents and her Skyview family like coach Jay Gowen, with whom she stays in contact.

“I owe them everything,” she said.

While in high school, Hampton met Gowen’s parents who have always been a tennis family. They just happen to spend their winters in Mesa, Ariz., so of course they would make regular trips to Tempe to see Hampton play.

There were many recent on-court tennis accomplishments — like a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 2 singles playing against Oregon on March 6 in Eugene (“In college that never happens, especially in the No. 2 slot,” she said.). She also qualified with the team for the U.S. Indoor Nationals in January in Nashville.

Hampton also took on a leadership role with the Sun Devils.

“Sammi definitely has the respect of her teammates,” McInerney said. “She was a team captain this year and has relished that role. She has been a very good leader and role model.”

The NCAA did give spring sports athletes another year of eligibility due to the pandemic cancellation. However, Hampton said she’s leaning heavily on not returning. After all, it would mean a sixth year of college for her.

“It would be a lot for me,” she said. “It’s so sad. I love tennis so much and my team. My goal was to make the (NCAA) tournament and I really think I was on that path.

“That’s why part of me wants to come back because I know I can make it.”

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