by Drew Eastland ’21 (he/ him)

Photo by Tim Cowie.

A tale of two results sums up the women’s tennis team’s campaign so far this year. The team started the season with a disappointing shutout loss to East Tennessee State, but bounced back with a convincing seven matches to zero result against Presbyterian College in a rivalry of PCUSA affiliated schools.  

In tennis, each match victory is counted toward the point total. In a competition of individual matchups (some doubles contests too), the ‘Cats have moved in collective independence. The team suffered 0-7 defeats against Liberty and VCU  but stamped their authority over West Virginia State and Wester Carolina with convincing 7-0 results in both contests.  Nicole Krykanov ‘21 explained the discrepancies in the results. 

“We definitely feed off of each other’s energy, especially in singles — we never feel lonely on the court because of all the cheering,” Krykanov emphasized. “But we’ve also played some really talented teams. A lot of times, the overall score doesn’t do our performance justice against these teams.”

Head Coach Susanne Depka expressed her excitement to even be able to compete this season. Last year, the global pandemic robbed her team of a season just as they were getting underway. Coach Depka also emphasized that even this season faced tremendous uncertainty.

“I have missed the thrill of matches and coaching our players during matches,” Depka reflected. I was not sure where collegiate athletics would be at this point. I did not think we would have a full schedule and would have the majority of our matches canceled. I am pleasantly surprised by how much we have gotten to play and am optimistic we will be able to finish this season.”

Even the offseason was impacted by the novel coronavirus. The ‘Cats are quite young with only one senior and six underclassmen (first-years and sophomores) on the team. Limited offseason practices time and coaching made the start of the season a trial by fire for the young talent on the team’s roster.  Unlike other collegiate sports, tennis traditionally plays both a fall and spring season; however, this year the fall season was cancelled in favor of a spring slate instead. 

“It has been difficult for the first year athletes, as they have had a much different experience, Depka recalled. Without competing in the fall it was tough to assess their improvement and growth.”

Gladstone expressed her pride in the young team.  She emphasized their quick learning and high maturity level so early in their collegiate careers.

“I’ve been really impressed with our freshman and how up to the challenge they’ve been,” Gladstone said. “I’ve enjoyed seeing them grow.”

This past weekend, the team was reminded just how uncertain things still are as they navigate a season filled with COVID concerns. The team’s match against Fordham was postponed due to positive COVID tests from Fordham just this last Saturday.

Despite the schedule shift, the ‘Cats played well in their first A10 competition on Saturday with a 6-1 triumph over St. Joseph’s College. The ‘Cats’ 3-7 non-conference record isn’t what they’d hoped for, but a 1-0 start in the A10 could spark this team on a run.

The coronavirus pandemic has really hindered some previous team bonding and travel traditions. Masks on the bus and during competition are the norm.  Large team dinners at restaurants have been a casualty and everything stays in a sort of traveling bubble.  Mira Gladstone ‘22 explained the situation.

“When we travel it’s much more strict…we have to bring everything in…we’re not allowed to go outside our hotel,” Gladstone laid out.

Coach Depka emphasized that the season is going to be a year-long journey and that the team is building toward an exciting finish in the conference championship.

“There have been a lot of areas we have been working on and trying to improve, but I would say that if we can keep things simple, stay relaxed and present we will be successful,” Coach Depka explained. “Our goal is to work through all of this during the season so that we can be at our best at the conference championship.”

Players echoed Coach Depka’s goal of peaking during the A10 tournament.

“I wholeheartedly believe that this team can make it far in the A10 championship, especially since we still have so many chances to grow with so many matches left in the season,” Krykanov emphasized. “Our team has so much potential— with each match we improve exponentially.”