For the UC Santa Cruz women’s tennis team, this has been a season that will truly make them or break them. After their tough 8-1 home loss to San Jose State last Tuesday, the team is 1-15 heading into two difficult games against Notre Dame de Namur and Cal State Stanislaus this weekend. However, all seven members of the team and head coach Erin Ness look at this season not as a failure, but as a valuable learning experience.
“It’s been a rough season on paper, but we’ve been getting better,” said third-year coach Ness, who played for UCSC women’s tennis before graduating in June 2006.
Take the most recent game versus San Jose State. On a windy Tuesday afternoon at the East Field tennis courts, junior Kyla Kessler Rowe and sophomore Taylor Mannix stepped up in doubles competition to take on two of the best that San Jose State had to offer. Amid cheers of “Let’s go Slugs!” from the modest crowd and the occasional “Whoo! Good try!” San Jose overpowered UCSC to take an early 3-0 lead.
Kessler Rowe and Mannix would not be discouraged, battling back with the help of strong serves and excellent defense to make the score 3-2, San Jose.
“They did really well,” said junior Chrissy Nichol, a fellow women’s tennis player. “It’s hard playing against the wind and San Jose State had a stronger doubles team than the last time we played them.”
Ultimately, San Jose State’s power and hustle allowed them to take the game 8-2. However, assistant coach Jessica Ruth credits her players for battling back and almost gaining enough momentum to take the win.
“Our goal is winning and competing,” Ruth said. “Leaving everything out on the court.”
This season has proven to be one of the toughest the team has ever faced. Out of the 16 teams that the Lady Slugs have played or will play this season, four are Division I (UC Davis, San Jose State twice and Santa Clara), five are Division II (Sonoma State University twice, CSU Bakersfield, Notre Dame de Namur and Cal State Stanislaus) and nine have winning records.
On top of that, the Lady Slugs started the season off inexperienced, with no seniors on the roster.
“We have two juniors, one sophomore and four freshman on the team,” Ruth said.
Coach Ness doesn’t see playing such elite teams as an obstacle. Rather, she sees it as a great chance to learn from these superior teams.
“We’ve played a lot of higher-division schools this season and it gives us a good chance to see how good we can be and raise our game,” Ness said. “It helps us improve a lot faster.”
And improve they have. After starting the season being shut out by Santa Clara University, UC Davis and San Jose State, the women’s tennis team was able to score at least once in eight of their next 13 matches, including their decisive 6-3 defeat of University of La Verne on March 24.
Ness considers this type of improvement extremely valuable for the young team.
As she put it, “That’s what it’s all about — getting better.”