LSU senior women’s tennis player Taylor Bridges couldn’t recall the exact moment she first crossed paths with teammate Paris Corley, only to say it was undoubtedly at a junior tournament in which the phenoms were entered.
Though Bridges is from Mesa, Ariz. and Corley from Grants, N.M. – their hometowns located approximately six hours apart – they increasingly found themselves together at the same tournaments. Corley even moved as a senior in high school to Arizona to train and partner with Bridges in such instances.
“We’ve always been around each other,” Bridges said of Corley, who was her first doubles partner on the junior circuit. “Both of our families have been around each other. We just grew up keeping in touch.”
Even when Bridges, who is a year older, began her college career at North Carolina State, she invariably remained in contact with Corley, who was finishing her high school senior year before starting her collegiate career at the University of Arizona.
They were on opposite ends of the country plying their trades, both the top-rated prospects from their home states trying to make their respective marks at the college level.
But they were unable to find the true happiness they desperately sought.
After a year at N.C. State, Bridges transferred to LSU. Immediately her father put in a good word with Tigers’ co-coach Michael Sell for Corley, who was unhappy after one season at Arizona and looking for a potential landing spot.
“When we got the opportunity that we were both transferring we both wanted to go to school together, it was something we both always wanted,” Bridges said. “We’ve always been super close. I knew Paris was looking to go somewhere and we had talked a bunch. She came and stayed with me in Baton Rouge because I was in summer school and of course, she loved it. I wanted her to come and everything worked out really well.”
Corley transferred to LSU, enabling the two life-long friends to realize a childhood ambition of being college teammates. They’ve forged a deeper relationship as leaders for a Tigers team that finished fourth in Southeastern Conference regular season play after being ranked as high as ninth nationally.
They’ve melded their considerable talents into quite a final season together. While they’ve both experienced their share of individual success in singles play, Bridges and Corley went 15-4 – playing either on the Nos. 2 or 3 doubles court – where they hope to improve on their No. 84 national ranking (Top 64 qualify) and reach the NCAA singles/doubles championships May 24-29.
“We do so well just because of our friendship, we clicked right away. . .even off the court,” Corley said. “I’ve grown up with her since I’m 7 and she’s literally like a sister to me. We’ve always had a good time; we’re always laughing which transcends off the court as well. Whenever we’re in a tough situation. . .the match is close, we just trust each other and win or lose, it’s just about us.”
LSU’s team enjoyed its greatest season in 30 years with a 9-4 SEC record and an opening-round bye in the league’s tournament where Tigers lost to Tennessee in the quarterfinals.
Bridges, ranked No. 54, went 13-10 this season as LSU’s No. 1 singles player. She enjoyed a career-best 21-11 record at No. 3 singles her sophomore year and is 50-28 in her career.
Corley, ranked No. 47, was 17-4 in the regular season singles, winning her match in the SEC tournament and providing stability in the middle of the lineup where she predominantly played No. 3 singles. She topped LSU with 22 singles wins last season and has put together a career mark of 59-23.
“They’ve really left a high standard here at LSU and especially for our program,” Sell said. “Each day in practice, they show their hard work and run after each ball. Their attitudes in practice, that’s where it starts. They’re our hardest workers, they’re our most consistent workers. They put the time in.”
Dubbed the “Southwest Girls” because of their geographic origins in Arizona and New Mexico, Bridges and Corley simply flourished in doubles play. They had won six of their last seven matches to finish 6-2 when the spring 2020 season was halted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve been together 13 years and hitting the same ball with each other,” Corley said. “There’s a lot of comfortability at that point.”
The 2019-20 season represented what would have been Corley’s final season at LSU had it not been for NCAA restoring one final year of eligibility.
Bridges recalled some anxious moments last year until the NCAA decided Corley could return and for the first time, they could enjoy a full-fledged season together.
“We were at home in March, it was a shock, and we didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said of the growing pandemic. “When we left, we thought that was going to be it, that was Paris’ last time, and we didn’t know what was going to happen. When we found out she could take a fifth year, we were all so happy because we all love her on the team.”
Consider their styles of play a perfect match for prosperity in doubles.
Bridges prides herself in being strong from the baseline, enabling Corley to be more aggressive moving toward the net and controlling play with an array of volleys and overhead slams.
Corley is also considered more of the vocal leader of the two and handles the ‘play’ calling, providing a road map on what areas of the court they will cover once the serve is put into play.
It’s also hard to not underestimate the value of their constant communication and moreover, the chemistry they rely on to know exactly where each other will be in the heat of the moment.
They went 12-3 in dual match play this season, were 8-3 during the SEC portion of their schedule and registered wins over two nationally ranked teams.
“Trust,” Sell said of another of their attributes. “When you know someone that long, you have the ability to say the positive and constructive and take it with a grain of salt. Just knowing the trust, they have. They know where each other’s going to hit and which positions to be in.”
The early exit from the SEC tournament brought Bridges and Corley closer to the finality of their time together as teammates at LSU.
The Tigers are scheduled to play in the first-and-second round of the NCAA team regionals (May 7-9) with the super regionals scheduled (May 14-15) and the team championships (May 20-23) in Orlando.
Both are scheduled to graduate in May and Bridges intends to return and play for a fifth season, while Corley will have exhausted her eligibility at the end of the season.
“We’re both excited for what’s to come, we both have a lot in store for our futures,” Corley said. “After college, I’ll probably talk to Taylor every day. I think we’re friends for life. It’s not like the friendship will end. We’re both rooting for each other and will always be there and keep following what each other’s doing whatever that may be.”
Bridges, who essentially has been the sister Corley’s never had, expects their journey into adulthood to be filled with more memories of sharing time, whether that includes professional tennis or not.
They’ve discussed in great detail remaining in each other’s lives to the point Corley wants Bridges to serve as the maid of honor in her wedding. Bridges would love nothing more for the two to share the same neighborhood and have their respective families live next to one another.
“When we have kids, we want them to grow up being friends just like us,” Bridges said. “I know after college she’s like a sister to me. We’ll always talk and be best friends.”