Cenzo Rossi ’22 (He/ Him), Sports Writer

The women’s tennis team has had a strong fall campaign through their first three tournaments. In their first collegiate tournament at Charleston Southern, Daniela Porges ‘25 and Linden Patterson ‘25 demonstrated their ability to be big presences on the team. Patterson got her first win against Campbell’s Anna-Marie Kopecka in a three-set battle. Porges dominated fellow Charleston Southern freshman Amila Jusufbegvic 6-1, 6-1. Porges continued her promising start at Georgia Southern, downing Mercer 6-2, 6-1 and Kennesaw State 6-1, 6-1 on Court 5. However, doubles dominance was a theme at Georgia Southern. The duo of Kavya Patel ‘25 and Josie Schaffer ‘23 downed Georgia State 7-6 and North Florida 6-1. The freshman pairing of Porges and Patterson also proved deadly, beating Georgia State 6-3 and UT-Chattanooga 6-1 in consecutive days. 

The freshmen theme continued in the 20-team ITA Regionals field in mid-late October. Patel squeaked out a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (3) victory against NC Central, while Porges dismantled Charleston Southern 6-4, 6-0. Schaffer and Mira Gladstone ‘22 have spoken highly of the freshmen Patel, Patterson, and Porges. Schaffer says that they are “so talented” and “fit into the team so well.” Gladstone indicates the first years are “very competitive.” After all, they were four-star recruits according to Tennis Recruiting Network.

The only team member playing in the A1 section of the draw, Schaffer was the twenty-sixth rated player in the stacked competition. Although she narrowly lost to Clemson’s Ali DeSpain, she gave a good account of herself in a tough field. This positive performance piggybacks off of last season’s First Team All A-10 campaign. Appearing in 21 out of 24 tournaments in the shortened 2021 season, Schaffer won nine doubles matches and led the team with nine singles triumphs. All of her matches were played on the prestigious Court 1. Schaffer dubs her playstyle as “aggressive,” as she loves coming to the net, forcing her opponents into difficult decisions. Schaffer’s mindset is just as good as her aggressive playstyle. Per Head Coach Susanne Depka, Schaffer excels when facing adversity, focusing on the “challenge” of playing difficult opponents rather than the “negatives.” This season, Schaffer is improving her play along the baseline, helping her eliminate mistakes and control points without the approach of coming forward. 

As a unit, the women’s tennis team is very close. Part of which stems from the adversity they have faced. For example, the COVID shortened 2021 schedule proved challenging for the Wildcats. Finishing 6-15, they lost their final seven consecutive regular-season contests. Even the fall season has been filled with ups and downs. Despite impressive singles and doubles victories, certain players were sick during the first two tournaments, thus not allowing the Wildcats to trot out a full-strength team. Although coach Depka doesn’t like to use missing players as excuses, absences at the Georgia Southern Fall Shootout were “tough to overcome.” 

The story of Emma Heiderscheit ‘23 encapsulates the atmosphere of the program. Competing in zero tournaments last season, Heiderscheit recently recorded a doubles win with Franny Shea ‘23 at Georgia Southern. Her return is met with jubilation from Schaffer, indicating the junior is “working so hard every single day” to feature regularly. Schaffer’s excitement for Heiderscheit embodies the spirit of the women’s tennis program. Unique to other college teams, Schaffer described how “all of us are on that court cheering,” motivating each player to the fullest. Liz Truluck ‘22 added, “We have each other’s backs which is a great feeling.”

Going forward, the team will undoubtedly improve. One player praised for strides: Victoria Anyanwu ‘24. After playing only two singles matches and ten doubles matches last season, she spent most of the summer practicing at Davidson. According to Coach Depka, Anyanwu is more “confident” and “comfortable” on the court. That confidence bore out in the ITA Regionals, losing a three-set encounter to USC’s Kendall Couch. 

In addition to Anyanwu, Gladstone and Shea are important this year. In 2021, Gladstone took home seven singles victories, mostly from Court 3, and won a team-high 11 doubles matches. Appearing in twenty-one singles and doubles matches last Spring, Shea looks to improve on her six singles and five doubles wins. Coach Depka hints that Shea has “worked hard on quite a few things,” so more wins will follow. One must not forget Liz Truluck ‘22, who formed a mean doubles partnership with Schaffer in 2021, winning four of seven matches. 

In a COVID shortened 2021 season, Richmond eliminated Davidson in the second-round of the A-10 tournament. Although the Spring season has not begun, there is no reason why the Wildcats cannot advance further. A large factor: mentality. Coach Depka has expressed the importance of “work[ing] through mentalities” that every match offers. Whether that means facing a difficult opponent, making serves in tense moments, or decreasing unforced errors. Truluck echoed a similar message, stating the players are continuously “improving our mentality and mindsets in matches.” If the team takes each game as they come, with the talent infusion of Porges, Patterson, and Patel, and the returning regulars Schaffer, Gladstone, and Shea, success will come to Ridge Road.