“Whoever wins this is in the nationals,” said men’s tennis head coach Christian De Jesus. “So this is like a do or die scenario. This is it. This is the real deal.”
The 2014 NCAA Division III tennis tournament took place last Saturday and despite having sub par records, both the men’s and women’s tennis teams qualified for the competition.
The men’s and women’s teams both hit rough patches halfway through the season, losing four and eight consecutive matches respectively. During those times it was tough to keep morale up, but women’s head coach Mary Ryniewicz kept her team focused by keying in on small things to improve on.
“We focus on doing our best with minor goals, like winning a certain amount of matches or sets,” Ryniewicz said. “I want the team to always be focused on improving every practice.”
Similarly, De Jesus said his positive style of coaching helped keep the team’s spirit up through the losses. He told the players that as long as they put in the work during practice and gave the team the best chance at winning, he was satisfied. Losses are welcome, even somewhat helpful, De Jesus said.
“To get to a win you have to go through very tough losses to get hungry,” De Jesus said, “so every time you compete, you have that fire inside you to compete a lot harder.”
The women’s team knows all about that competitive fire. After losing eight consecutive games, the team found their groove just in time as one more loss would have ended their season. The team won three straight tournament games while facing elimination, even though they had only won two games the entire regular season. They won when they had to, and now the women are the proud winners of the Great South Athletic Conference title.
Senior Alexandria Scotten found solace in the fact that her team had been put through the ringer and came through on the other side. She was optimistic in the team’s ability to compete in the national tournament.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks where we haven’t had much competition,” Scotten said. “But we are pretty confident about this tournament. We’ve kept up with the best teams this season.”
The men’s team had also been tested by some of the top talent in all of Division III this season. When asked which match stood out from the rest, De Jesus immediately recalled the day his underdog Slugs surprised the Division III world when they took down the heavily favored Whittier College.
“[Our style of play] is to play every point until the last breath, even if you’re down 5-0 or you are up 5-0. That was how we played that match,” De Jesus said. “We won 5-4 and they were shocked. People realized this team is for real and can play. That was the best moment of the season.”
Both De Jesus and Ryniewicz hoped the experience their teams gained by overcoming adversity throughout the season would show in the tournament. Still it was a long shot. Unfortunately, both teams were knocked out early — the men’s team lost in the second round to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and the women’s team lost in the opening round to Pomona-Pitzer.
However, players from both teams expressed that this past season will be a good foundation to build on. They’re excited to keep moving forward next year.
“This is still one of the nation’s top tennis programs. Nobody can argue about that,” De Jesus said. “We have to build. We cannot say we are going to win the title this year, if we don’t have the right tools to do it. We need to build something very special over time to get there and believe that we can get there.”