Winning the NCAA Division 1 women’s singles tennis championship comes with a few perks. One is that you get a life-sized picture of yourself emblazoned on a banner inside the University of Michigan Tennis Center.

Another is that you get to play in the first round of the U.S. Open.

For Brienne Minor, an LSA junior who won the 2017 NCAA singles title last spring, the chance to play in the 2017 Open was a dream come true. She ran into tennis greats Roger Federer and Venus Williams and soaked up the energy of the tournament—one of the four major tournaments around the world that constitute the pinnacle of professional tennis.

But Minor, the first African American woman to win the prestigious NCAA women’s singles title, is equally happy about that banner inside U-M’s Tennis Center. The 20-year-old player fell in love with Michigan the moment she first set foot on campus back in 2015. The U-M women’s team means the world to her—so much so, in fact, that Minor admits she gets more nervous playing for Michigan than she does playing for herself. 

Last spring’s NCAA singles tournament was a case in point. For the first time that season, Minor was competing as an individual, not as part of a team, and her score would have no effect on U-M’s team standing. “It was honestly the first time in the season where I wasn’t nervous,” Minor remembers. “When it’s just me out there, I don’t have to worry about putting a point on the board for the team.”

On court, Minor is a tenacious competitor. Off-court, she loves to be around friends and family.

That’s Brienne, says tennis pro Mark Bey of Chicago, who has coached Minor since she was a nine-year-old girl with a big forehand and an amazing feel for the sport. “Bri is a piece of harmony. She loves to be around people and friends.” And when it’s time to play, “she has a unique ability to turn the switch on and be tenacious and competitive and want to win. Not a lot of people can be well loved and also have outstanding results as an individual player.”

In a sport that has its share of driven—if not neurotic—players, Minor is refreshingly normal. She likes superhero movies and Insomnia cookies. (“My Kryptonite,” she says.) She comes from a good family, says U-M women’s tennis coach Ronni Bernstein. “Her parents are super supportive. They don’t miss a match.” It’s one reason Bernstein wanted Minor at U-M—that and her powerful strokes and aggressive, all-court game.

Runs in the Family

Minor’s maternal grandfather, James Minnefield, was the first black player on his high school tennis team in Indiana in the 1950s. Her parents, Michelle and Kevin Minor, played tennis as teens, and her two older sisters, 29-year-old Kristina and 24-year-old Jasmine, both went to college on tennis scholarships—Kristina at Illinois, Jasmine at Oregon. By the time Minor was five, she was hanging out at tournaments, watching the older girls play. Jasmine Minor, now a reporter for WFTX in Fort Myers, Florida, believes it’s a huge part of why her little sister won the NCAA title. “If you want to be a serious player, you need to see it, you need to be there. For Bri , that’s what she’s done since she was pretty much out of the womb.”

When the girls were younger, Michelle and Kevin Minor, both engineers, arranged their work schedules so that at least one parent could get to every tournament their daughters played—even when it meant eating Thanksgiving dinner at a Cracker Barrel or picking out a Christmas tree two months early. Sometimes the girls’ schedules were so complicated their parents booked flights so the family could meet up during layovers in the same airport. 

Minor holds the 2017 NCAA Division 1 women's singles tennis championship trophy.

After Minor made it to the quarterfinals of last year’s NCAA singles championship, Jasmine and Katrina drove all night to Georgia to cheer on their kid sister. When she played the first round of the U.S. Open in August, the whole family—plus a small army of Minor’s Michigan friends—came out to watch.

Minor lost that match, 1-6 and 5-7, to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, but it didn’t dampen her spirits. Health permitting, she hopes to turn pro after graduating from Michigan next year.

Minor says it’ll be tough: the schedule punishing, costs prohibitive, and competition staggering—never mind the mental aspect of a game that takes place as much inside players’ heads as it does on the court. But she’s determined. Her long-time coach, Bey, who also works with the world-famous doubles team Mike and Bob Bryan, says if Minor is healthy, “the sky’s the limit.”

Minor spent last fall recovering from knee injuries but will be back on the courts for U-M at the start of the 2018 season in January. She’s also got her sights set on a post-tennis career in her major, communications—maybe as a film or TV producer. But first she wants to get back to work for Michigan.

Having met her #1 goal, winning the singles championship—the first woman in Big Ten tennis history to do so—she’s now focused on her #2 goal, a first-ever U-M NCAA Division 1 team title in women’s tennis. The women’s team made it to the quarterfinals her freshman year, but no further. Minor wants to help change that. “I’m really hoping we can get a team win before I leave,” she grins. “That’s the next thing I would want, for sure.”

Photos courtesy of U-M Athletics