Women’s tennis premieres fresh faces in start to spring slate

Media Credit: Katarina Marinkovikj

Sophomore Katarina Marinkovikj swings at a ball in a game last season.

After a winter hiatus marked by several new additions, women’s tennis is heading into its spring slate trying to prepare a young crop of players for action.

The Colonials wrapped up fall play in late October, but they have been busy during the offseason welcoming two new players, graduate student Jiaqing Mo and freshman Lara McNaughten. Freshman Sarah Bodewes said players need to focus on fostering strong connections as a relatively small team to help push each other through the season.

“Jiaqing and Lara are great additions, and I think we’ve come together as a team very well, and it’s been easy for us to adjust together,” Bodewes said.

The additions will help minimize the loss of some of last season’s leading players in 2019 graduates Maria Siopacha and Sara Grubac. The pair held a combined 26-15 singles record last year and served as part of the two winningest doubles pairs.

Now, the squad is leaning on young but experienced players to carry the team. Five of seven rostered players are underclassmen, while Mo and lone senior Melis Bayraktaroglu anchor the older group.

Mo played for Drury, a Division II program, during her undergraduate career, finishing last season with a 15-1 record in singles, including a 5-0 record in the conference. She earned her second consecutive nomination to the All-Great Lakes Valley Conference team in 2018.

Mo walked onto the team with one year of eligibility left. She said her previous three years of experience have made the adjustment to playing at GW minimal because she was already familiar with the structure and flow of the season.

“I’ve already been playing college tennis for four years, but I only competed for three years, which is why I have one year of eligibility to play here,” Mo said. “So there’s not much to adjust to because I’m already familiar with the rhythm and how the schedule will be.”

Historically, doubles play has been a weak spot for the Colonials. While the squad held an above .500 record in singles last season, they posted a 30-31 performance in the doubles category. Mo said she was recruited by Browning specifically for her doubles skills to bolster the team’s weaker points.

Bodwes said she and her teammates study, work out and grab lunch to spend time together as a small team.

“I think hanging out off the court and on the court has definitely helped build that relationship with the team,” she said.

Bodewes and freshman Luciana Kunkel represent another potential boost to the Colonial’s doubles play. The duo formed GW’s most successful doubles team during fall play with a 6-5 overall record.

“We work really well together,” Bodewes said. “We just clicked right away. I’m really excited about what’s to come in the spring for us. I think it will be really good.”

Despite these efforts, the squad faced a setback in the opening match against William and Mary. The Tribe swept the Colonials 4-0. Mo and partner sophomore Alexandra Vesikallio lost their doubles match 6-1, and Bodewes did not compete in the dual match.

Browning said the squad has the physical ability and talent but still needs to build up mental toughness in the final points of a match. But she added that her team has time to reach its true potential.

“Alex and Luciana were both up in their matches before it ended,” Browning said in an email. “We’re right there as far as the ability and the talent but we need to learn to be a little bit more mentally tough in those crucial moments. We will get there.”

The Colonials closed out their fall competition at the ITA Atlantic Regional Championships Oct. 25-29. Overall, GW posted a 22-24 overall singles record during fall play. The spring season stretches from Jan. 25 to April 22, when the Atlantic 10 tournament kicks off.

Vesikallio, who transferred into the program from Villanova this year, and Bodewes both had successful fall debuts with the Colonials, posting a combined 11-3 singles record overall. Browning said Vesikallio’s addition has been “tremendous” for the team because she is familiar with the spring slate and can help the younger girls succeed during the long season.

“Sarah did have a very impressive fall as well as Alexandra Vesikallio,” Browning said. “I expect both of them to be very consistent for this spring.”

Bodewes said the squad is focused on adjusting to the increased pressure of spring competition.

“I think it will definitely get more intense,” Bodewes said. “Spring season is definitely more important than the fall, but they both matter. Having match after match, we just have to stay focused and keep the energy up and be positive throughout the season.”

The squad continues its season Tuesday at 9 a.m. with a matchup against Morgan State.

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