BUSINESS

Athletic genetics run in the family of Ole Miss tennis player

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Alexa Bortles serving during a match.

Natalie Suk
Oxford Stories
nmsuk@go.olemiss.edu

A University of Mississippi freshman tennis player from Atlanta, who instantly made an impact on the women’s tennis team, has a remarkable family background in athletics.

Alexa Bortles, who arrived in the spring of 2017, instantly helped the Rebels make the Top 16 National Indoor Championships. Along the way, she also picked up a doubles ranking with All-American tennis player Arianne Hartono.

“She is a great player with a great attitude,” Hartono said. “She came in right when the season started, and as a freshman, that is not easy.”

Hartono and Bortles are currently ranked 24th in the nation. They have had success by playing doubles for the Ole Miss Rebels.

“Already coming in, she is one of the strongest on the team,” Hartono said. “Usually freshman need time to adjust to lifting and the fitness side collegiate sports has to offer, but not Alexa. She was ready from the first day.”

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From left, Alexa Bortles and Arianne Hartono play doubles together.

Bortles had the opportunity to choose between Georgia, Clemson, Texas Christian University and the University of North Carolina, but fell in love with the Ole Miss campus.

“The tennis is great here,” Bortles said. “I always wanted to go somewhere in the South, and being in the SEC, just made it that much more intriguing.”

Bortles also chose Ole Miss because her cousin, Colby Bortles, plays baseball for the Rebels. Colby Bortles also has a strong resume. He made Preseason All-American, Third Team, Preseason All-SEC, and Second Team, and is currently the No. 15 third baseman in the nation.

He participated in the yearly invitation Home Run Derby. With his current batting average and overall stats, he is projected to be drafted in the first round pick. He has also been the captain two out of his four years.

“It is great having Colby here,” Bortles said. “He has helped me adjust to college life and showed me the campus and the town itself for the first couple of weeks.”

Then there is Blake Bortles, the brother of Colby Bortles, who recently signed a major fifth year contract renewal for $20 million. Blake Bortles was the first round, third overall pick in the NFL. Even though he got more baseball scholarships than football, he chose to become a quarterback at the University of Central Florida. He started his second year and led the team to their first bowl game.

Blake Bortles has been a great inspiration for Alexa Bortles, because he has shown her everything is possible. Alexa Bortles and her two cousins are very close and, even though they aren’t all in the same place, they still keep in touch.

Chas Ossenheimer, the strength and conditioning coach at Ole Miss, has coached both Alexa and Blake Bortles. Before coming to Ole Miss, Ossenheimer coached at UCF, where he worked with Blake Bortles for a year.

“Both Blake’s and Alexa’s work ethic is extremely good,” said Ossenheimer. “It was interesting for me to work with Blake first, and then Alexa.”

Ossenheimer was excited to work with Alexa and see how similar the cousins are. “They are both extremely athletically gifted,” Ossenheimer said. “There is no doubt the family history plays a role in their athletic success.”

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Bortles moving forward after a backhand.

Initially, the family name Bortles started with three brothers: Rob, Randy and Alexa’s father, Rick Bortles.

Rob Bortles, Alexa Bortles’ uncle, wrestled at Georgia Tech for a year and decided to pursue football, so he walked on at Georgia Southern, slept in his car, and received a scholarship for the next two years.

Randy Bortles wrestled and played baseball in high school. He was later drafted by the Yankees, but unfortunately threw his shoulder out. However, in 2017 he was inducted in to the Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Lastly, Alexa Bortles’ father, Rick Bortles, also wrestled. He was a 4-time all American at Georgia Tech. He was supposed to go to the Olympics in 1980. Unfortunately, that was the year that USA didn’t go.

Alexa Bortles said she started playing tennis after choosing it over gymnastics. She also had a great role model. Her stepfather, Grant Stafford, is a former South African tennis player. Stafford reached a career high ranking in singles at No. 53 and 42 in doubles.

Bortles was coached by Stafford from a very young age. “It was great having him around,” she said, “because having somebody who played the sport professionally is a great advantage.”

Stafford taught Bortles everything she knows and helped her develop as a player significantly. “He is an extremely positive person in my life, and without his guidance, I don’t know where I would be.”

It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around the athletic success that has trickled down throughout the Bortles family. It would be nearly impossible to deny the fact that genes have contributed a major role over the years.

However, if it weren’t for their individual hard work and constant support among the family, they would not be where they are today.

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