Young core dominates women’s tennis ahead of fall slate

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Alexander Welling | Assistant Photo Editor

Sophomore Katarina Marinkovikj and 2019-graduate Sara Grubac talk with their head coach during a match last April.

Women’s tennis heads into fall tournament play with one rostered upperclassman on a team of six.

For the first time since the 2015-16 season, underclassmen have outnumbered upperclassmen on the squad. Players said as long as the team maintains a mature mindset, the loss of experienced seniors and a young core will not affect its performance.

Sophomores lead the charge with three players, comprising half of the team. A duo of freshmen round out the five underclassmen. The squad is without a junior and rosters only one senior.

Senior Melis Bayraktaroglu said each member of the team has needed to act like a leader in that players help one another out at matches and prioritize individual preparation for the season.

“We all play tournaments and in terms of being an upperclassman and lowerclassman, I don’t know if it’s going to matter a lot because everyone looks really good, and if you’re in the game at the right mindset, it doesn’t matter,” Bayraktaroglu said.

Five underclassmen narrowly outnumbered the four upperclassmen on the 2015-16 squad. The number of juniors and seniors equaled the number of freshmen and sophomores for the 2016-17 campaign. Five upperclassmen and three underclassmen comprised the 2017-18 squad, while five upperclassmen and two underclassmen were rostered for the 2018-19 season.

The Colonials are gearing up for their first competition of the fall slate at the Bedford Cup Friday. Bayraktaroglu said the team has practiced harder to prepare this fall than they did in the spring, lifting weights and running through drills.

She added that head coach Torrie Browning puts an emphasis on incremental growth.

“Torrie says, ‘If you improve 1 percent every day, it’s 30 percent in a month,’ so this is what we want, and she is just trying to ease into what we’re trying to achieve,” Bayraktaroglu said.

The team lost Maria Siopacha, Sara Grubac and Victoria Kogan to graduation last spring. The trio played at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 and No. 6, respectively, in their final seasons. Siopacha and Grubac garnered Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team honors in their final campaign.

Bayraktaroglu said the team will adapt to the loss of consistent, high-performing players, but the team will need to see more playing time before lineups can be established.

“It’s going to be a big adjustment still because they were always staying in the same spots, especially Maria was our No. 1 for three years,” Bayraktaroglu said.

On a team that houses players from five different countries, Bayraktaroglu – who is from Turkey – said she and other members struggled to find practice time when they traveled home for the summer.

“I would just play points with my friends or other teams that I have in Turkey, but it’s not the same as playing a tournament and being in that stressful environment,” Bayraktaroglu said.

She added that the team has turned its focus on long drills and fielding the ball before its season opener to compensate for the lack of summer training opportunities.

“We’re trying to adjust and get together and hit all of the balls before the tournament because we didn’t have the chance to play all of the tournaments as well, and personally, I think that’s the best way we can do it,” Bayraktaroglu said.

The team welcomes a pair of freshmen in Sarah Bodewes and Luciana Kunkel and a sophomore transfer to the team. Sophomore Alexandra Vesikallio played one season at Villanova, appearing in one match.

Sophomore Katarina Marinkovikj said the new members are meshing well into the team dynamic, and the six-member squad has formed a tight-knit dynamic in the limited time they have lived on campus.

“They are fitting really good with us,” Marinkovikj said. “They are really pumped up to play and do well on the tournament. We’ve gotten pretty close in the past few weeks even though it has only been like two weeks.”

With only five tournaments spanning two months before the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Atlantic Regional Championship, Marinkovikj said the fall season progresses slower than the spring season, which decreases stress and allows her to better balance each part of her game.

“What I’ve realized, this whole semester is much easier for me because you get into everything slowly and smoothly,” Marinkovikj said.

The Colonials kick off the season Friday in College Park, Md. for the Bedford Cup.

Belle Long contributed reporting.

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