Eight players. Half the team, gone. The UC Santa Cruz women’s tennis team may be short on players, but they are far from forfeit.
Head coach Erin Ness wants to continue last year’s success, even though the team did not attend the NCAA DIII National Championships. The team finished as No. 21 in the nation, capping off one of their best seasons ever. This year, they are still aiming to make it to the National Championships, despite the challenge of having lost some of their best players.
Sophomore Sophie Lundeberg sees the change in size as a push for everyone to reach their potential.
“With only eight players, each of us feels more responsible for the team’s success, which raises our game,” Lundeberg said.
Coming into this season, the team consists of familiar faces but has lost five players from last year. This year’s team features only one new recruit, freshman Quyen Truong. The pack now stands at only eight players.
Ariana Mokhtari, a UCSC junior, was last year’s No. 1 player and paved her way to the NCAA DIII Individual Championships. She finished No. 28 in the nation for singles and No. 25 in doubles alongside recent graduate Taylor Mannix. The Slugs finished at No. 4 in the West Region and narrowly missed out on competing in their Regional Championships. Mokhtari has left the team this year, however, leaving the top spot open.
The tennis team had a high turnover last year due in part to graduation, when one senior and one junior, both starters, left the team. Five of the players in the starting lineup ended up leaving last year. Junior Nicole Hannouche, on the team since her first year at UCSC, left due to time constraints.
“I’m planning on majoring in biology, which would be a major time commitment,” she said.
The women’s tennis team is currently practicing hard and often to get to the National Championships in Oshkosh, Wis., despite having fewer players. The players are hitting the courts three hours daily. On top of practice, the Slug crew conditions Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, meaning an extra hour of sprints, running hills and core workouts.
Although losing players may initially seem like a negative development, head coach Ness is well aware and excited about the positives.
“It’s a challenge, but all I see are positives looking forward,” Ness said. “The team has gotten much closer as a result and is turning into a championship-caliber team.”
Sophie Lundeberg sees the team’s practice sessions as more productive than ever.
“A smaller team means that practices and drills are more focused,” Lundeberg said. “There is less standing around and more playing time.”
Ness also said the reduction is an opportunity for players who sat out most of last year to rise up and take off this year.
“Players who did not have a chance to compete last year now have that opportunity, which will carry over into the rest of their lives,” Ness said. “They get a chance to truly experience the life of a college athlete.”
This holds true for Lundeberg, who was on the tennis team’s second squad last year.
“I’m really excited to get more playing time this year since I did not start last year,” Lundeberg said.
The team started their 2011-2012 campaign in Claremont, Calif. at the USTA/ITA Small College Regional Championships for Division III tennis. The team was able to send all eight of its players on the trip, due to its small roster. With their season getting closer and closer, head coach Erin Ness could not be more optimistic about where they are heading.
“As these ladies continue to step up and learn, I see us competing for one of the top spots in our region.”
Women’s Tennis Season begins Jan. 22, when the team hits the road to face Santa Clara University.