Steve C. Wilson
FILE: Alexia Petrovic, Utah Women's Tennis September 13, 2017 in Salt Lake City, UT. (Photo / Steve C. Wilson / University of Utah)
I came and visited, and I loved it. It was a great conference, great school, something different, and I really loved the coaches and the team. —Alexia Petrovic on the University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — When Alexia “Lexi” Petrovic’s tennis coach suggested she consider playing collegiate tennis in Utah, she rejected it almost immediately.

“I thought, ‘I can’t go to Utah. It’s way too far away,’” the Illinois native said. “Utah was a really last-minute option for me. I was mostly looking in the Big 10, something close to home that was within driving distance. But my coach played for the coach at Utah, and he asked him if he knew of a Midwest girl who was under-recruited.”

Petrovic had actually been to Utah when she was 12.

“I played in a tennis tournament,” she said. “We did zip-lining and a bunch of stuff, but I remembered the tournament because of what we did, the place we stayed. We did terrible in the tournament.”

Her mother encouraged her to take a visit to the Salt Lake City campus.

“I came and visited, and I loved it,” she said. “It was a great conference, great school, something different, and I really loved the coaches and the team.”

In her other visits, it had been a mixed bag. Sometimes she loved the coach but not the school or other players. Sometimes she loved the players or school but not the coaches.

“It felt like everything fell into place at Utah,” she said.

The one drawback was that the U. isn’t known as a broadcast school, so some opportunities she hoped for didn’t exist.

“That’s been a good thing and a bad thing,” she said. “I’ve been able to create opportunities here, pave the way for myself and other people.”

Where she might have faced more competition at a school with a storied broadcasting reputation, she’s been able to be a pioneer at the U.

“I’ve known I wanted to do broadcast since first grade,” Petrovic said. “It’s something I felt clicked with my personality. Seeing people on the news, I knew I wanted to do that. In middle school I focused on sports.”

She’s helped with streaming and covering many sports, especially women’s sports, for local radio stations, including offering the color commentary for the Utah Women’s Basketball broadcast on ESPN 700. She’s conducted Facebook Live interviews with athletes from nearly every sport.

“I’ve gotten a lot of experience,” she said.

And while she’s helped pioneer new broadcasting opportunities in the communication and athletic departments, she’s also had a profound impact for the Ute tennis team in her final college season. This week she will lead a No. 10 Utah women’s team into this week’s Pac-12 tournament, a role she didn’t expect to play this season. They will face No. 7 Oregon in the first round of the tournament Wednesday afternoon.

The men, seeded No. 8, will play No. 9 Arizona Wednesday morning.

Utah head coach Mat Iandolo said his outlook for the season “has been sort of tempered by the fact that one of our best players was well below 100 percent” because of an injury. Eventually, Margo Pletcher, a senior from California, opted to get surgery that ended her season, leaving a hole for another player to fill.

“One of the real bright spots has been the play of Lexi,” Iandolo said. “She’s been unbelievable. Without a doubt, she’s the most improved player in the entire Pac-12 Conference.”

The senior, who hopes to work in broadcast journalism after graduation, worked her way up from an unknown to a competitor in every match.

“She’s competing against people who were 200 spots ahead of her on any college recruiting list,” Iandolo said. “And she’s beaten a lot of them.”

Iandolo said the team has been competitive in most matches, even against ranked opponents, and he expects the Pac-12 tournament will be no different. “I’m pleased that we’ve remained as competitive, very competitive, in all of our matches in spite of losing our best player,” he said. “The (other players) have stepped up as well as could be expected. … As far as the team goes, there is reason to be optimistic for the future of the program.”