Volume 97 Issue 8 Sports

Tennis opens up season in Florida

by Alyssa Fasolo

The men’s and women’s tennis teams kicked off their seasons on the road before heading to Florida to compete over Spring Break.  Prior to leaving for Florida, the men’s team held a record of 1-2 and the women’s team was 1-1.

Both teams began their seasons on Feb. 19 with losses to regionally ranked Salisbury, the women losing by a score of 9-0 and the men losing 6-3.  They bounced back, however, to defeat Bridgewater (Va.) on Feb. 20, with the women sweeping the competition 9-0 and the men winning 6-3.  The men’s team went on to drop its match against Hobart on Feb. 27 by a score of 8-1.

The teams headed to Orlando, Florida, for Spring Break on Mar. 5.  The men and women both finished the week 2-3, with victories against King’s (Pa.) and Wittenberg and losses to Ohio Wesleyan, Lake Forest and Colorado College.  

Upon returning from Florida, the men’s team defeated Gettysburg 5-3 before dropping its match to Ursinus 6-3.  The women also defeated Gettysburg by a score of 6-3, and they lost to Ursinus by the same score.

This season has presented the teams with several challenges, including changes in the coaching staff.

“It’s kind of like a mini emotional rollercoaster that we have to deal with and figure out how to overcome,” sophomore Katharine Conklin said.

Prior to the start of the fall season, former head coach Jason Cohen accepted a position at another school, leaving the tennis program without a head coach.

“Jason was one of the reasons why I chose Juniata,” junior Rachel Yurchisin said. “I feel like with the way that some of the freshmen are serious about playing here and being recruited by him, I definitely would have thought about not staying at Juniata if that had happened to me.  I really commend them for sticking through and being focused.”

The team was dealt another challenge when Chauncy Nixon, who had been hired to replace Cohen, was let go after only two matches.

“We lost Jason in the fall.  Then having to figure out what to do and motivating ourselves and coming together, then getting really excited that we got a new coach this spring with Chauncy and then losing him (has been the biggest challenge),” Conklin said.

Nathan Smith, the head coach of the swim team, has stepped up and is currently running the tennis program.  In addition to Smith, assistant coach Lauren Perow has remained with the program but is unable to take over full time due to her career commitment.

“I know what the biggest challenge will be is going into matches, and since we don’t have anyone that truly knows tennis more than us, we’re going to have to figure everything out on our own,” senior Bryan Gregory said.  “In singles it will be especially hard by yourself out there.  Everyone will be going up against other people that will have their coaches coaching them on what to do, and we’ll be there just trying to figure it out on our own.  That’s pretty tough to do, especially when conference matches roll around.  It’s important for us to win those to get to the next level.”

Despite these obstacles, the players have assumed a positive outlook on the situation and have used it as motivation for the season.  

“I feel like the fact that we didn’t have a coach for the fall kind of brought us together and made us work together and bond,” Conklin said.

Regardless of its situation, the team has come together in order to be as successful as possible.

“If we separated in any way, there’s no way that we’d be able to win matches, and in order for us to win matches, we knew that we had to just concentrate on the week ahead instead of looking big picture, and I think that given the talent that we have as a team total, anything is possible as long as we stick together,” Yurchisin said.

The players have learned to coach and take criticism from one another so that they can continue to improve.

“It’s a lot easier to hear criticisms from a coach, but when you’re having criticisms from your doubles partner or another teammate, it’s a lot harder to stick together and be positive but also be hearing what you’re doing wrong from those same people and turning that switch of coach and player or teammate on and off quickly is definitely difficult,” Yurchisin said.

Although the team has been faced with definite challenges, the players are set on reaching their goals at the end of the season.

“Winning the conference is what our goal is,” Gregory said.  “I think we can do it.”

The teams are coming off extremely successful seasons last year, and it has influenced them tremendously in setting their goals for this year.  Last season, the men’s team won the conference championship for the first time in program history.  The women’s team finished first in the ECAC tournament, which Juniata hosted.

“We have higher expectations for this year, and seeing what we can do with fewer people kind of gives us the idea that we can do more,” Yurchisin said.

Despite all that the teams have been through so far this season, the players are looking to the future with positive attitudes.

“Attitude is everything,” Gregory said.

The new freshmen who joined the team this season are being taught that remaining positive and sticking together with their teammates will be the keys to success.

“They need to just remember to relax and trust in their skills, because all of them have the skills that they need in order to succeed on the court,” Yurchisin said. “They just need to trust in themselves and not get nervous about playing college tennis because we’re all pretty relaxed.”

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