The UCI women’s tennis team currently sits in third place in the Big West despite an injury-ridden season.
It was a big loss seeing their No. 1 singles player, Stephanie Hammel, go down with a bone bruise in her wrist.
Due to the nature of her injury and how slowly the wrist heals, it is still unsure if they will get her back for the tournament.
“Given [the loss of Hammel], it’s been kind of a year of adjustments” Head Coach Mike Edles said.
In order for the Lady Anteaters to still be successful, some of the younger players were put in a position where they had to step up.
“It’s a little risky when players have to move up, [but] if they respond well it’s really beneficial I think for them in the long run,” Edles said.
One particular player who was put in this position was freshman Kristina Smith. She started the season in the No. 6 spot, yet she has played everywhere from fifth to third this year.
The biggest strength for the Lady Anteaters this year has been their depth, which has allowed them to remain in contention with any team in the conference.
These are exactly the elements that the staff is looking for when they recruit new players. They want girls who will contribute to the team and stay mentally tough.
“Tennis is such an individual sport that we are really looking for team players because you know the players are with each other all the time … there’s a lot of prima donnas in tennis so it’s kind of hard to identify team players in such an individual sport,” Edles said.
Team chemistry has no doubt been a factor in the success of the UCI women’s tennis program during their period of extensive injuries. Despite how vital teamwork has been for the team so far, its effects will be even more important for the coming years.
“The players that have been in our program the longest [are] the ones that are progressing more and more. [They] sort of have to take on the leadership role as they move through the program and that’s been a big part … the juniors and seniors are the team leaders. We don’t have any seniors this year, so the juniors have really had to step up and they’ve done a nice job and I think they are going to do even better next year,” Edles said.
Although UCI women’s tennis may be primed for even more success next year, the focus is still very much on the now.
After coming off of four non-conference losses, the No. 72 ranked Lady Anteaters responded with a big win against the No. 64 ranked University of San Diego Toreros last week.
They followed their strongest victory of the season with a win against UC Davis on Saturday.
With the regular season now concluded, all eyes are focused on the Big West Tournament.
“The draw to me really doesn’t matter. In the tournament format that we have, you have to beat everyone anyway. The best team is going to win. Long Beach is the defending champ and they will be the No. 1 seed so hopefully we will get to play them at some point,” Edles said.
UCI is going into the postseason with the mindset of being mentally tough. They feel like they can compete with any team in the league, and the season’s results have proven just that.
Even when they played Long Beach State earlier in the season, the match was a nail-biter in which UCI was a few match points away from taking home a victory.
“It just matters what we do that day, how we perform. How much we play to our maximum capabilities … I expect us to be a force to be reckoned with in the Big West Tournament,” Edles said.
Big West Tournament action begins on Thursday April 29 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Expectations may be high, but the Lady Anteaters seem up to the task.