By: Jake Carver ’21
Both the men’s and women’s tennis teams’ grueling seasons peaked this week at the Atlantic 10 Championships in Orlando. For the seniors, the A-10 tournament is a last effort to secure a conference championship and a trip to the NCAA Regional rounds. For the host of talented first years, the trip to Orlando is a first taste of success to come.
This season, the women’s squad is in great position to challenge for the A-10 title. With a unique blend of senior experience and young talent, the ‘Cats have made constant improvements throughout the season. After early season struggles in the fall, they went 5-1 in conference, including a victory over the reigning A-10 champion University of Massachusetts. Their only in conference loss occurred on April 14th against an up-and-coming George Washington squad, but they quickly rallied the next day to take down George Mason.
The main goals for the Davidson women will be getting even with George Washington and upsetting VCU, who usually dominates the A-10. That being said, the ‘Cats are more confident than ever in their chances to win it all. Anna Catherine Feaster ‘18 attests that “this is the strongest team Davidson has had since [she] has been [at Davidson].”
The men have seen similar success. While their schedule was dotted with tough out-of-conference matchups against powerhouses like No. 20 South Carolina, Virginia Tech and Elon, their losses only toughened them to a 5-0 run against in-conference teams. These wins were not easy; each match was closely contested, but, according to Jack Riazzi ‘18, the ‘Cats were able to fight for wins due to their “toughness” and “experience.”
Certainly, the ‘Cats have plenty of experience. This year, the team is lead by four seniors: Riazzi, Artem Khrapko, David Hager, and Shamael Chaudhry. Chaudhry and Khrapko have been especially dangerous, with both of them winning A-10 Player of the Week. Younger contributors like Axel Fries ‘20 and Yash Parikh ‘21 have also been essential to Davidson’s success.
Similarly, on the women’s side, talent of all ages is rejuvenating the tennis program. Lindsay Song ‘21 has garnered five A-10 rookie of the week nods, while Feaster is finishing off her senior season strong with consistently dominant singles performances. Additionally, sophomores Alexandra Abele and Samantha Armas have repeated the success of their stellar freshman seasons this year.
While the women are primed to take the A-10 by storm, it took months of trial-and-error for the team to cohere. Apart from playing around with doubles teams, Head Coach Susanne Depka has added a new tactic to prepare her athletes: in-match goals; one example is ending each point positioned toward the net, an area the players call the “o-zone.” Every goal has gone to the wider purpose of making the team as aggressive as possible.
“Against certain competition [the goals] are definitely harder to pull off… but they have changed the game for me,” says Feaster. “If you are passive, you are allowing the opponent to have their way with you. If you are assertive, you are naturally going to get better whether you win or lose.”
The men’s focus going into each match is more specific; they have made a concerted effort to start each day with their doubles matches. “By starting off strongly and taking the doubles point, you set other teams back and give yourself confidence going into singles,” claims Riazzi. “Against our loss to Appalachian State, we didn’t secure the doubles point and we barely lost… it’s crazy how one small mistake can cost the team the entire match.”
This confidence is especially necessary in a long, strenuous ordeal like the A-10 tournament. The five day long tournament will cost the ‘Cats time in the classroom and test their focus on the court. The conditions are likely to be hot and windy, only adding to the difficulty.
Despite this, the men and the women feel more prepared than ever. One reason for this is preparation on the coaches’ part. Both squads have already played in Orlando earlier in the season with the championship in mind. Furthermore, even though the men and the women had back-to-back matches against George Washington and George Mason on different weekends, both trips occurred late in the season and featured awful wind.
Feaster realizes the conditions were a positive, saying “the wind was good preparation moving forward. The loss [against George Washington] was tough but it only fueled our fire for the next day [against George Mason] and for conference.”
Despite the pressure of the A-10 Championship, the players have remained positive and focused. “I’m just enjoying myself because this is going to be my last time competing,” says Feaster. “It may be a little more nerve wracking [than in the past] but I’m just going to have fun and enjoy myself.”
Even the younger competitors remain unnerved. “I don’t know what to expect [in my first A-10 tournament], except that it’s going to be tough, hot, and a lot of matches… but I’ve got the team by my side and if we trust the process we are going to do fine,” says Song. “I’m honestly not nervous because I know that we have put in the work.”
For the men, who have claimed the second seed, one concern is overconfidence. Even though they have not lost against A-10 competition yet, Riazzi understands the depth of talent they will be facing in every round of the tournament. “We need to be even tougher [than in the regular season] going into the tournament,” he admits. “When you are a top seeded team, teams are going to be gunning for you.”
This tournament will be a change for young talent to shine on the women’s side and for veterans to make a final stand on the men’s. For both programs, it is their best chance in years for them to capture the conference championship.
“When we get [to the A-10 championship], we need to be focused on what is happening then and there on the court, not on winning the whole thing,” says Feaster. “We need to focus on right here, right now, this point, this match. That is an important attitude to have.”