Looks can be deceiving.
These women may appear to be your typical Anteaters, but they are out on a mission. They are looking to accomplish something that has never been achieved by anyone at UCI. A man leads them through his encouraging yet demanding voice. To accomplish their goal, they must travel far and wide.
Who are these women? They are the UC Irvine Women’s Tennis team.
Led by Head Coach Mike Edles, the Anteaters are looking to capture their first ever Big West Conference championship this season.
Senior Tiffany Chang, a returning first-team All-Big West member and junior Anna Bentzer, a second-team pick, led the team. UCI finished last season ranked 58th in the nation with a 14-10 record. Unfortunately, the team lost in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament.
Retaining all but one player from last year’s squad, the team is more experienced and has high expectations for this season.
‘We’re looking forward to a good season,’ Edles said. ‘We’ve already gotten off to a good start. We have a really great team this year because we have a veteran squad. We should do well [in the Big West]. We’ll definitely be in the hunt. Going in, we’re probably considered one of the top three teams in the Big West.’
Not only is winning the conference important for the coach, but for the players as well.
‘This is really important, since we’ve come so close so many times,’ said senior Christie Posner. ‘We definitely have the talent to make it happen. It’s just a matter of staying injury-free and coming together to play good tennis.’
Although they must all play well individually, the team knows that it takes more than that to win as a team.
‘When it comes to collegiate tennis, it’s the team chemistry that makes or breaks the team,’ Chang said. ‘Team chemistry can raise the level of each player. It’s what will lead us to win or lose this conference.’
‘In some ways we had more talent last year,’ Edles admitted. However, he is quick to note, ‘This year, I think we have better team chemistry. In the sport of tennis, you think it’s an individual sport and that team chemistry is not that important except when you play doubles. But team chemistry is important in creating success.’
And so the team is looking to work individually for success, so it will ultimately pay off as a unit. The top six players compete against other schools and each of them is talented and indispensable.
‘Anna totally surprised us,’ Posner said. ‘We didn’t know she was going to be as amazing as a tennis player as she is. She’s our rock and wins all the time. I can always count on her.’
As for Posner, Chang said, ‘The thing that stands out most with her is her tenacity. She’s always fighting and always has a huge head and spirit.’
Junior Kristina Boss brings strength and power to the team. ‘She hits the [seams] out of the ball,’ Posner said. ‘She’s scary when she’s on and she can beat anybody.’
Junior Hui Leow is the quiet assassin on the team.
‘She is quiet, but lethal on the court,’ Chang said.
Rounding out the six is sophomore Veronica Fermin, who is playing for injured freshman Jayme Hu.
‘She has so much potential in her game,’ Chang said. ‘I can’t wait to see how she does.’
In terms of each player on the team, Coach Edles considers them all important.
‘They’re all valuable,’ Edles said. ‘But Tiffany Chang and Christie Posner, as seniors and team leaders and co-captains, they’re very influential and important to our success and they have stepped up in terms of their leadership for the team.’
‘They’re the best captains that we’ve had,’ Bentzer added. ‘The captains are putting a lot of emphasis on staying as a unit and that will help us when we play tough schools. We have a meeting each day where we say positive things. It’s a new change for our team.’
However, as talented as the team is, many on the team see one thing as their weakness.
‘Our main weakness is lack of confidence,’ Chang said. ‘We have all the talent we need. It’s just a matter of believing in ourselves as a team that we can do anything. We’re working on it every day.’
The team is currently ranked 63rd in the nation and has started off the season 2-2, with wins over Hawaii and Hawaii-Pacific. To accomplish the mission that they have set for themselves, like the saying goes, practice makes perfect.
‘I think confidence has been an issue in the past,’ Edles said. ‘We have been working a lot on that, in terms of how we carry ourselves on the court and visualizing ahead of time what our objectives are and seeing ourselves as being the best, and it’s beginning to pay off.’
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