Season turned into a roller coaster ride for women’s tennis team
- Apr. 29, 2012
- 0 Comments
A roller coaster might be the best analogy to describe the 2012 season for the Kansas women’s tennis team. The ride saw its share of historic highs and rock bottom lows.
Before the season’s dual play portion started, the team received news that two contributing Jayhawks would not be back in the spring. This was a huge blow to a program.
“We lost our No. 1 and No. 2 so everyone had to move up two spots,” sophomore Dylan Windom said. “In the Big 12, I feel like an increase in two spots is very hard to overcome.”
Freshman Karen Hernandez left the team after one semester, but the loss of senior veteran Ekaterina Morozova was crippling to say at the least.
Morozova, who was clearly the team’s best player, remained on the roster but was forced to miss the spring for undisclosed reasons. At one point, she was ranked No. 76 nationally in singles (No. 33 in doubles), and she is best known for her magical quarterfinal run with Windom at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s All-American Championships in October.
Those losses weren’t apparent at first, at least in the first seven matches of the season. The addition of freshman newcomer Maria Belen Ludueña aided coach Amy Hall-Holt’s starting lineup, and Kansas’ 7-0 non-conference dual record through March 1 was the program’s best in two decades. Ludueña, who had been in the United States for less than three months, soared to a No. 118 national singles ranking as the Jayhawks shot towards the sky in January and February.
“Like our strength and condition coach said, ‘Adapt and overcome,’” Windom said. “Adapt to new things and try to overcome them. Don’t make excuses for anything.”
However, none of the seven victories came against ranked teams, and none of those teams played in any of the known six BCS automatic-qualifying conferences.
Why is that important? Ten of the Jayhawks’ next 13 scheduled matches were against teams ranked in top 75 of the ITA Division I standings.
This new level of difficulty showed immediately, as Kansas dropped the next four matches on the road to ranked opponents—North Texas, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Just like that, the Jayhawks received a reality check and a bruise to the team’s ego.
“It was definitely eye-opening playing against ranked teams, but I think we did really well,” sophomore Claire Dreyer said after the team’s early-March trip to Tulsa, Okla. “We just kept fighting and it wasn’t really a negative weekend for us.”
The season’s outlook brightened a bit when Kansas won two of three matches in its mid-March trip to Las Vegas. Still, the team had yet to defeat a ranked opponent, despite playing its way to a solid 9-5 record at the end of spring break.
Then Baylor and Texas Tech came to town—teams that would end up finishing No.’s 1 and 2 in the conference’s regular season standings. The Jayhawks fell to both, but gave the No. 13 Bears a 4-3 scare, and junior No. 1 singles player Monica Pezzotti notched her best singles win of the year in the team’s 6-1 loss to the 18th-ranked Red Raiders.
“With Baylor we lost 4-3. It’s matches where they are some of the best in the conference,” Pezzotti said. “We were right there, so we need to build our confidence and believe in ourselves that we can beat those teams.”
But this year’s shorthanded Jayhawks couldn’t get over the hump in the talent-rich Big 12,. The conference only had one other unranked team Iowa State. Kansas went on to lose all nine of their regular season conference matches, closing the season with a second loss to Oklahoma, 4-0, in the first round of last week’s conference tournament.
In interviews, several Kansas players said that losing had created a mental block by the end of the season, but it’s barrier that Hall-Holt and her team repeatedly vowed to overcome in the offseason.
“I don’t want to say that I think it got in their heads,” Hall-Holt said. “Does it affect you? Yes. Does it physically drain you? Yes. I just think with our long season, it’s draining and it can wear on you a little bit.”
For next year, the Jayhawks are thinking on the positive side with the entirety of Hall-Holt’s senior-free lineup set to return. Hall-Holt also seems to have found a perfect fit at No. 1 doubles—Pezzotti and Windom finished the season ranked No. 89 nationally, despite playing doubles together for the first time just over a month ago.
Another plus, junior Haley Fournier, a native of Leawood, Kan., will be eligible for next season after transferring from Texas Tech in the fall. As a freshman for the now-21st-ranked Red Raiders, Fournier finished the 2010-11 season 19-11 in singles, 20-6 in doubles, repectively.
“It’s exciting for us that we’re a young team because we have so much talent,” Dreyer said. “Everyone is just excited to come back next year and keep going at it.”
Edited by Tanvi Nimkar