Tennis teams feature new faces

Sam Sayler

Washburn University tennis is heading into the spring season with plenty of attitude.  Saturday, both teams headed to Springfield, Mo., to match talents with Drury University.  While the men’s team fell 2-7, the women rose to the occasion with a 6-3 victory.

Having lost many of their senior players last season, the men’s team has new blood in five true freshman players, as well as in Samir Haikal and Tyler Nelson, who transferred from Cowley County Community College and Johnson County Community College, respectively.

“They’re very young, but they’re very talented,” said Dave Alden, head coach.  “[Samir] is new.  Tyler was with us this past fall, but I think we’ve got lots of talent, and the biggest thing we’re going to get is experience, so I expect that we’re going to be a very different team come April than we are today.”

One of the challenges facing the team is adjusting to playing at the college level, which has a steep learning curve.

“You coach differently when you have people who have never experienced a college tennis match,” said Alden.  “I think a lot of it comes to finding the right chemistry with guys from a doubles standpoint, and also them just learning how to play college tennis.”

On the other hand, the women’s team is the polar opposite in terms of experience, with many of players who won the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association championship last year returning, with the exception of Trang Le Nguyen.

“She was a big loss,” said Alden.  “She was a solid player for us.  Fortunately, she’s an assistant coach this year, so she still has her hands on the program, which is great for me and great for the girls.”

Three new players have entered the fray and joined the team, including Australian freshman Elektra Hunter and a second Cowley County transfer, Jamie Blackim.

“[Elektra] came in and had a good fall, but she’s definitely getting better and progressing,” said Alden.  “Jamie is playing great and is kind of step into our doubles and play a significant role in our singles lineup.  I think, this year, we’re actually deeper than we were last year.”

Newly elected women’s team captain Morgan Rainey is excited for all of the changes that the new season brings.

“I think I’m changing positions,” said Rainey.  “So we’ll see how that goes.  I was real comfortable with my spot at number two, but if I have to move up, I’ll take that challenge.  I think our new players will make a good asset to the team as well.”

Rainey also discussed what it means to be the team captain.

“I love the girls, and they’re easy to work with, so it’s no problem,” said Rainey.  “I need to make sure that they are all comfortable with their matches, comfortable with me, comfortable playing, and I try to keep them as calm as I can, because I think they all play better when they’re relaxed.”