As the 2015 tennis season kicks off, the UT women’s tennis team is finishing up their preseason preparation and getting ready to begin their season. The Spartans, ranked thirty-seventh in the nation will kick off their season with an exhibition match on Friday against Hillsborough Community College. Their first official match will take place February 7th at St. Thomas in Miami.
The Spartans will be competing this year with only six players, meaning they will have to play with one less player if someone gets injured. The top two singles players on last year’s team (which included eight players in total), Thashia Garcia and Meg Wladimirski, would’ve been seniors this season. However, they both graduated a semester early this past December. Coach Al DuFaux also noted that the third singles player from last season, Lauren Hewett had graduated last May.
Senior Jenelle Morgan is aware that her team has changed a lot since last season, but knows that they are up for the challenge. “Our dynamics are different. It is a fresh new team, but we all work together,” Morgan said.
Having only six girls on the team will also be a challenge because it will be harder for the players to cheer on their teammates during matches. Though tennis is usually seen as an individual sport, college tennis adds a more team-oriented atmosphere.
Some of the players feel that not having any alternates on the team will make it tougher to do that, as matches are typically played simultaneously. One benefit of having a larger team is that the girls who are not playing usually spend matches encouraging and motivating their teammates from the sidelines.
This year with only six girls, everyone will be playing every match so the Spartans will not have the luxury of any additional players who can cheer on their teammates from the sidelines.
Senior Kelsey Matthews knows that this is an important aspect of college tennis. “We try to go to everyone’s courts and pump them up. It makes a huge difference, especially if they’re down in their matches,” said Matthews, who had an impressive season last year, going 16-1 in singles matches.
Morgan wants the support of the fans due to the lack of players on their roster. “Since we only have six girls, we want more fans!” Morgan said.Morgan and Matthews are actually the only two players left from last season’s squad. The other four team members this season include three freshman, Emily Hewland, Cameron Moskol, and Gianna Pinasco, as well as junior transfer Kristen Mee.
Another obstacle that the Spartans have to overcome will be the strength of the Sunshine State Conference (SSC). “The toughest conference in the US,” DuFaux said, after already mentioning that their conference features five of the top ten teams nationwide.
Due to the strength of the SSC, the Spartans are ranked seventh in their conference despite holding an impressive national ranking of thirty-seven. However, they are not content with seventh place and would like to move up in the standings.
After finishing seventh in the SSC last season, the Spartans are keen on improving their position in the conference standings. “Our goal is sixth in the conference,” DuFaux said. Improving one spot up to number six would be a great achievement for them, as it would put them in a better position for the SSC playoffs.
The NCAA tournament is another goal that some of the players have, which would mark UT’s first appearance since 2007. “As a team, I’d like to finish top 20 in the nation, and make the NCAA tournament. Haven’t made it [the previous three years but I’d like to,” Matthews said, who desires to end her final season on a high note.
The Spartans seem to be prepared for the upcoming season as they will try to reach their goal of finishing sixth in the SSC. “We also spent a lot of time in the weight room and on the track. A lot of conditioning. It’s our last season, so we want to try our best,” Morgan said.
Andrew Stamas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org