April 14, 2017 9:53:41 AM
STARKVILLE -- The crowd gathered around Jasmine Lee as she served to Sara Lizariturry after practice.
When the phones came out, Lee knew something was off.
Lee thought she was serving to Lizariturry so she could work on returning wide serves. What she didn't know was her boyfriend, Stanton Price, was coming from his spot in the elevated bleachers with four balls, each with one word written on them.
Will, you, marry, me.
Lee always will remember the spring of 2017 as when she got engaged. At this pace, she also might remember it as the launching pad to a professional tennis career. As Mississippi State women's tennis' No. 1 player this spring, Lee has won nine of her 11 Southeastern Conference singles matches leading MSU (13-7, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) to the No. 20 spot in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's rankings.
MSU will take on Ole Miss at 1 p.m. Saturday in Oxford in its regular-season finale. MSU then will move on to the SEC Championship, which will begin Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee.
Lee entered her senior year looking to play after college. That dream seems well within reach as she enters the match against Ole Miss with a 16-3 record (9-2 in the SEC) at No. 1 singles. She also is 14-4 in doubles (7-3 in the SEC) with Lisa Marie Rioux.
"She's put the extra time into (strength and conditioning) and it shows," MSU coach Daryl Greenan said. "She has everything she needs physically when she's out there."
Lee's command of her physical routine made the proposal a bit tricky.
The date was April 1, the day in between MSU's home victories against Texas A&M and LSU. Lee generally doesn't do extra practice on such days, so Greenan had to trick Lee into staying after practice by telling her she needed to help Lizariturry work on her game. Greenan was sure Lee would have said no if he told her to stay for her own benefit, but throwing in the opportunity to serve a teammate took all the hesitation out of Lee.
Then Greenan had to stall. While Price assumed the position and the crowd gathered, teammates with a sign for yes and a sign for no assumed positions behind the baseline.
But there was a problem.
The yes sign was down the middle of the court and the no sign was to the wide side. Lee, as instructed, was hitting serve after serve down the wide side.
"That's our girls for you," Greenan said. "They saw her serving wide, you would think they might figure out to put it on the correct side, but they thought they'd make it more of a challenge. We have an interesting group."
With the signs turned around and Price awaiting an answer, Lee had no trouble serving down the middle to the yes sign.
The proposal took place where the relationship began: at MSU's A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre. Lee said she met Price after he watched a match and a mutual friend later introduced them. The wedding planning hasn't started, Lee said. She still has matches to focus on as Price finishes his Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
Lee's play has helped her climb to No. 16 in the rankings released Tuesday. Lee defeated LSU's Jade Lewis, who is ranked No. 18, 6-2, 6-0 at No. 1 singles the day after Price's proposal. On March 24, Lee beat Tennessee's No. 1 Brittany Lindl 6-2, 6-1. She also beat Arkansas' Shannon Hudson, who also is in the top 50, 6-1, 6-1 on March 19.
On April 5, Lee and Lizariturry were named the SEC Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week, respectively. The awards came on the heels of the victories against then-No. 25 Texas A&M and then-No. 19 LSU. The wins vaulted the MSU to No. 16 nationally, its highest team ranking in program history.
The sweep of the weekly honors was the first for the Bulldogs in program history. The honors also were Lee and Lizariturry's first weekly awards at MSU.
Against Texas A&M, Lee defeated No. 39 Rachel Pierson 6-2, 0-6, 7-6 (5) and tilt the momentum in MSU's favor with a 3-1 lead in the match. On Senior Day, Lee and Rioux rallied from a 4-1 deficit to defeat LSU's No. 20 Ryann Foster and Joana Valle Costa 6-4 to clinch the doubles point. Lee then beat Lewis.
Lee, the team's only senior, also has grown as a leader, which is something that has pleased Greenan because it wasn't a natural role for Lee. Lee transferred to MSU from her native country of Taiwan and Chinese Cultural University. She said it took her time to overcome the cultural divide.
"The girls are more strong opinioned here," Lee said. "In my country, if you tell them something, they'll just do it. They won't question, they won't talk about it."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson @Brett_Hudson
1. Doctors: Fitzgerald healing faster than expected COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Vivians continues to raise her level of play COLLEGE SPORTS
3. McCowan dominates on, off court for No. 5 MSU COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Columbus ready for annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Ole Miss men beat Sam Houston State COLLEGE SPORTS