BY PHIL NOVOTNY
Every successful ship needs its captain. In regards to the women’s tennis team, senior Kristen Mee plays that key leadership role. She transferred from the University of Arkansas after her sophomore year to come to UT. In the four matches she appeared in at UA during her sophomore season, she was 0-3 in singles matches and lost her only doubles match.
As a result of a nagging shoulder injury and the lack of appearances on the court, she began to lose interest in the sport. However, her perception towards tennis changed after working with UT’s women’s tennis coach Al DuFaux.
“When I made the move [to UT], Coach Dufaux really turned my interest of tennis around and has helped me enjoy playing again,” Mee said.
She also credits a change of scenery to her increased passion for the sport. “I also think my environment that I am in is a lot more positive and I’m happier here in Tampa,” Mee said. “I enjoyed Arkansas and the people I met there, but I really have gained great relationships here in Tampa.”
Currently, Mee is the only upperclassman on the team while seven of her teammates are freshmen and sophomores. Coach DuFaux mentions that the plan for Mee was to mold her into the team captain right from the start.
“Coming from another school, she has had the opportunity to witness how team captains interact and work with other girls. That gives her an added advantage to integrate into our program while maintaining our culture,” DuFaux said.
Mee notes that last year’s graduating seniors Jenny Morgan and Kelsey Matthews were great role models in addition to helping her adjust to a new school and program. With Morgan and Matthews not on this year’s team, Mee strengthened her bond with sophomore and doubles partner Emily Hewland.
This season, they are 7-1 in matches when they are paired up together with victories over Seton Hall, Palm Beach Atlantic and Chestnut Hill.
“I think for me personally Kristen has been one of the biggest influences on my college tennis so far,” Hewland said.
Mee’s experience and wisdom have also been absorbed by Hewland. “Kristen came with a lot of experience and knowledge about the way college tennis works and has really guided me throughout the past two years and I’m not sure how I would have navigated the change from high school without her.”
The women’s tennis team is 6-2 overall and Mee has been at the core of their success. “Kristen’s a very determined and hardworking individual both on and off the court and uses these qualities to bring the best out in others on the court,” Hewland said. “Kristen is always striving for the team to be the best we can be and her competitive edge helps the rest of the team stay motivated to become better.”
This season, Mee embraces being a leader and that communication is key to being in the position she is in. “As a leader, you just really want to be seen as someone who everyone can talk to or turn to when there is something wrong, someone people can look up to and respect,” Mee said. Some of the roles that Mee had as team captain were making sure that teammates knew practice times, what the uniform will be and what you can and cannot do on and off the court.
As the season wraps up, Mee reflects on being a part of the tennis team and how it has influenced her experience.
“We are such a close group, not only are we teammates, we are close friends with everyone and I will miss this group so much. I wouldn’t want to compete or play for any other team and especially any other coach,” Mee said.