By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Capital University Women's Tennis may be halfway through its schedule but the real test is just beginning. After a strong end to the 2017-18 campaign, the Crusaders came back with a fall that will serve as a strong set of pillars to build upon. Head Coach Lynn Winters is excited to see the Crusaders continue to grow and aim for a run at its first Ohio Athletic Conference team championship.
In 2017-18, Capital won the most matches it had in a season since the 2012-13 campaign (7) and snapped a 25-match losing streak against Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) competition, as well. Last year, CU won just once but this past fall they already have three. Now a year wiser and stronger, Capital Women's Tennis is back to surpass last year's win total and challenge for a deeper run in the conference tournament.
"I think we're off to a good start this year," said Coach Winters. "That is fuel for our fire to keep it going. We have a lot of girls that are competitors and want it bad. They know where we started last year, how we ended the spring and how we did. We just have a good core group of girls back and I think we'll be stronger this year than we were last year."
It is both an advantage and a disadvantage for tennis to compete in a split season (playing matches in both the fall and spring), but for this year's Capital squad it may serve to be a positive. After losing its first two matches by wide margins, the Crusaders came back to defeat Earlham College, 8-1, and win two tough matches by a single point against Defiance College and Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
BRIDGING THE GAP
With nearly a four-month break dividing the fall and spring, it's up to each individual to make the best use of that time so as to not accumulate the proverbial rust. Coach Winters explained that this offseason all her players used the winter break to play at clubs near each players' hometown and engage in personalized lifting programs, which has not been the norm in recent history. Madison Watt took it a step further and ran a marathon to work on endurance.
With the new structure, the Crusaders feel more prepared coming into the spring season. They are also aware that they enjoyed success, but still have work to do moving forward in order to reach their goals.
"I think we did pretty good," said sophomore Madison Watt of the team's fall performance. "It's a good baseline for what we need to work on and what we're pretty decent on, so now we know from the fall what we still need to work on."
Now the Crusaders will take a 3-2 overall record into the spring season, which is the most the program has had in more than 10 years.
FINISHING THE CLOSE ONES
Even in matches that did not land the Crusaders way, many pushed their opponents to the brink and went to tiebreakers or three sets. In 2017-18, 10 different matches featured some sort of tiebreaker and 14 singles bouts went three sets. This season, eight matches have already featured a tiebreaker and six have gone three sets to find a winner. The key to turning those marathons into Capital wins - mental toughness.
"Tennis is such a mental game and to stay focused and to keep that focus and not let the outside start talking to you when you are in the middle of a match point; we've been doing yoga when has been helpful for a lot of the girls, meditation which has been helpful for a lot of the girls, and just the fact that they have a year under their belt, especially these freshmen, now they have the confidence, and that helps them too. So being in those matches that were so tight … I think the girls are ready mentally. They know how to prepare that way, moving forward," said Coach Winters.
Madison Watt reiterated that point and even point out the mental aspect of the game as one of Capital's strengths going into the spring season. "I think our positivity and going into every match with a positive attitude and knowing we have what it takes to compete with them … it's a very mental game and just knowing that you can do it is half the match right there."
IT STARTS AT THE TOP
Madison Watt (Wapakoneta, Ohio/Wapakoneta) came on to the scene as a freshman, earned the top singles spot immediately and had a season that landed the program its first all-conference award since 2008. Behind an 8-7 overall record in singles play plus her 6-10 doubles mark earned her honorable mention All-OAC honors last year. She will assume her position at the top of the Capital singles and doubles lineup.
"I personally just worked on my game and knowing what I need to do," said Watt. "During the fall some of my matches didn't go the way I expected them to go, just little things that I know I can do and it just didn't show during the fall."
In 14 singles matches last season, Maria Sadek (Cairo, Egypt/Dublin Coffman) went 7-7 at number two singles and will return back to that spot in the lineup again this year. Unlike last season, Sadek will now pair up with Watt at the top of the doubles lineup. Thus far, the duo has seen positive results with a 3-2 record and all three wins coming in succession to end the fall season.
"She [Sadek] is a really good player and I think we pick up on each other's strengths and weaknesses so we play really well together," said Watt. "We read each other pretty well, and we just have that connection you need to have when you play doubles."
The remainder of the lineup will showcase a mix of veterans and newcomers to the lineup. Competition will make change likely as well as push those anchored in their position to continue to get better.
Sophomore Julia Holt (Camden, Maine) is expected to make the move to number three singles after posted a 1-1 mark as that spot this fall. Last year, she primarily played on court four but has developed her game enough to make the move.
In her place on court four will be first-year Karen Kanke (Columbus, Ohio/Eastmoor Academy), who opened the fall with a 3-2 overall record and 2-0 at the four spot.
"She [Kanke] has a big serve that I love; I love watching [it]," said Sadek.
Together, Holt and Kanke will lock up the second doubles pairing though they have yet to play in a live match together.
"They both have power, great serves and also in doubles will balance each other really, really well," said Winters.
Rounding out the lineup at number five is junior Mackenzie Archibald (Parma, Ohio/Parma), who split time between five and six singles last year. Archibald came out strong, posting a 3-1 overall singles record - already more wins than her previous season - and even took a victory at number four this fall.
"She [Mackenzie] has been working really hard, she's been in the weight room all the time so she is stronger, she's mentally tougher," said Winters. "We'll see a lot of good things out of Mackenzie this year. She's got a lot of spirit and she really wants it bad, and is very determined."
The sixth and final singles spot is slated to go to senior Katie Woods (Sardinia, Ohio/Eastern Brown) who missed the fall due to injury but is set to return healthy and ready this spring. Watt noted that Woods' veteran leadership will prove valuable especially as the very young Crusader lineup learns the landscape of the conference and its competition.
Coach Winters also eludes that competition within the ranks will make the team better and help construct the lineup as the season wears on. The "challenge ladder", an idea that a player can challenge another at any time to work her way up the singles lineup, has been put in place and has given everyone something to use as motivation to both advance or maintain their spot. It is a healthy competition that allows for growth and could play a part in how the lineup is written out come tournament time.
Also in the mix to compete are freshman Marina Michaels, sophomore Emma Price, and senior newcomer Megan Watts.
With the spring season beginning this week in not-so-spring-like conditions, play will be moved inside when the Crusaders host Concordia University (Mich.) on February 16 and Pikeville University (Ky.) on February 23. While many would like to know what exactly Capital Women's Tennis can hang its hat on this spring, Coach Winters says that will be determined match by match, court by court, pending the opponent.
COACH LYNN WINTERS