WRITTEN BY: GRIFFIN ASELTINE | STAFF WRITER
As the NCAA Tennis season comes to a close, both the men’s (10-12) and women’s (9-10) squads find themselves in similar situations. With the most pressure they’ve been under all season, they will each have one more opportunity to make a statement during the PacWest Championships in Surprise, Arizona.
But according to Head Coach Curt Wheeler, that opportunity is more than just for self-fulfillment, critical praise and a conference title. He sees it as a chance to extend the season into an even further stage of success, one that may be a bit of a stretch for sub-.500 teams, but certainly ambitious and rewarding.
“Our goal for both teams is to make it into the regional playoffs and then from there, the national playoffs,” said Wheeler. “I think both teams have the ability and capability to make that happen; it’s just a matter of playing our best tennis when it matters.”
It is rather mysterious how similar and reflective the stories of these two teams have been all season.
The men’s team started out in a deep hole with a frustrating 0-5 start, but managed to find their stride over the following weeks en route to a 10-12 record, including a five-game winning streak in March. The women’s team showed a promising 4-2 start, but eventually faced a rough patch of their own with a five-game losing streak before ending the season with a 9-10 record.
Both teams have played significantly better at home -8-7 for men’s, 8-6 for women’s- than on the road—2-5 for men’s, 1-4 for women’s.
Unfortunately, home-field advantage will not be a privilege in Arizona.
Despite all the struggles, however, both teams said the promise and potential is most certainly present, and if execution is at its best on game day, great things can happen.
“We’ve played good teams in the nation really close, and have beaten many of them,” said senior Andre Staab from the men’s team. “We’ve shined in the past, and I feel like we’ve grown over the season. Now that we’re at the end of the season, it’s important to deliver, as we will soon figure out if we’re moving on.”
On the women’s side, the optimism is hardly any different.
Senior Hillary Ramage mentioned how the team has always had a different level of competitiveness when performing at the PacWest Championships.
“Every single time we’ve been to the PacWest Championships over the past few years, we’ve done very well,” said Ramage. “It’s a different environment, but the expectations are kind of high. That really motivates us and we all tend to pick up on our game as a result.”
Despite where they currently stand, both teams said that the PacWest Championships are a chance to make everyone forget about the brutal stretches they have had over the regular season.
If they perform when it matters most, perhaps the memories of their five-game losing streaks will be erased. Either way, it will not be easy, especially without the advantage of playing at PLNU.
“You have to focus on each match individually,” said Staab. “We’re certainly not heading into a tournament one- hundred certain we’ll be victorious. But our overall goals are really high regardless. We’re looking to play a good tournament and keep things going.”
The PacWest Championships begin on Wednesday, April 13 and conclude on Saturday, April 16. The first and second rounds of the NCAA Championships will be held from May 7 to May 10.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PLNUSEALIONS.COM