Very few teams remain the same team from one year to the next, and the LU Women’s Tennis (1-4) seems on pace to duplicate their 2-10 record last year. Yet one merely needs to look a little closer to find that despite the loss of graduated senior and last year’s top seat Gina Pirrello and standout junior Meadow Brennan, who is currently studying abroad, this team has improved significantly.
The most glaring statistic is that the matches have been much closer.
“Beloit has a really strong team, and we were close,” said Coach Dennis Niemi, referring to the Sept. 15th loss to The Bucs, adding that, “Last year we were losing easily to these teams.”
Whereas seven matches last year were 9-0 shutouts, and three were 8-1 defeats, this year has seen the Vikes shut out MSOE, a feat unheard of last season, and lose a close match to Knox, 5-4.
Moreover, the individual matches themselves have been much closer. In a match against last year’s conference champs, Beloit, Viking freshman Liz Bullock won her match 4-6, 6-2, 10-6.
And in a heartbreaking defeat that went two and a half hours, junior Abbey Birling lost 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 10-6 after being up 5-0 in the second set.
Indeed, all players agree that the team has improved significantly since last year. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. Next year we’ll be a lot better. But these last few matches have been really close. I think we just needed some time to come together as a team,” said first-seated sophomore Adriana Teodoro-Dier.
While the team has definitely improved since last year, reaching .500 this year would be nothing short of miraculous.
When asked about what changes the team has made since last year, Coach Dennis Niemi said, “We have more equality in our ability to compete. All of the girls are more evenly balanced.” He added, “Most of the girls are playing against players one or two levels better than they are, and it’s tough. What I see more than anything on this team is a lot more depth.”
Junior Abbey Birling consistently plays an offensive game, putting pressure on her opponent to err. Her remarkable volleying makes her one of the best doubles players on the team.
Amy Gammon is also a very aggressive player. She goes to the net a lot, and has the consistency to back up her attacks. She rarely makes costly mistakes, and will make her opponent play well to win.
Teodoro-Dier is primarily a baseline player, relying on powerful groundstrokes to catch her opponent off-guard. Coach Niemi said that Teodoro-Dier is working on attacking the net more often, an element which if employed at the right moments will take her game to a new level.
Niemi points to junior Claire Mallory as fundamentally the best player on the team. He stressed that more patience during rallies could easily place her in the first position on the team.
With more than half the season left, the Vikings are primed to improve on last year’s record. Their next match is at home today against Ripon (5-2).