Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
Berry College’s men’s and women’s tennis teams are set to compete in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) DIII Regional South tournament over the next two weeks, where they will work on integrating new players and improving their game.
Every year, tennis has five weeks of practice during its non-traditional season, which culminate in a regional tournament against other DIII schools. Clay Hightower, the head coach for both the men’s and women’s teams, said he uses this opportunity to assess the new recruits.
“The main purpose of that is to just get back into the swing of things and look at the new players,” Hightower said. “That’s the focus I have this year, five new guys and five new ladies, I just want to learn more about them and test them against the players coming back, whom I know, so I can know where they stand.”
He also said that the tournament gives him the chance to compare how they fare against real opponents, as opposed to their teammates.
“I want to see if they compete well,” Hightower said. “If their level is one level in practice and then they play a little bit tight when they’re competing, then now I know we have to talk about this a little bit more and work a little on their mental approach to the game and find ways to get them to relax and play the same way they play in practice.”
For returning players, the focus then turns to working on the little things they might not get the chance to practice during the traditional season. On the women’s team, sophomore Allison Ivey said that the lessened pressure allows her to concentrate on these aspects of her game.
“Because the fall matches won’t technically count for the actual season, there’s definitely things I would be more eager to work on in the fall to get ready for the spring,” Ivey said. “There are a lot of little things, like my serve, things I’m trying to work on in the fall before the main season.”
Meanwhile, for the men’s team, senior Jordan Crance said this tournament, which sees the players compete as individuals rather than a group, gives him the chance to try new things.
“My focus is just about playing one point at a time,” Crance said. “It’s not as much about the team, so maybe I’ll do some things that I normally wouldn’t do.”
The players also face off against a few opponents they do not usually compete with in conference play, such as players from Emory University, which Crance said is a good way to experience different playing styles.
“It’s good to play some other variations of how people hit the ball,” Crance said. “Some people have bigger serves, some people hit more slice. And usually the level of play is a lot higher in these tournaments, it makes you bring up your level of play to play with them.”
The other main aspect Hightower will be looking at during the tournament is doubles combinations. With five new players in each team, Hightower said it will be a good opportunity to see them play together, and Ivey said that even if not everyone’s at their optimal level yet, seeing how players combine can be a good preview for next spring.
“Even if my level or anybody’s level in the fall doesn’t necessarily match up to what it would be in the spring, you get to see how everybody works together as a team,” Ivey said. “So it’s a good indicator for how the season will go.”
The men’s tournament will take place from Sept. 20 to Sept. 22, while the women will play Sept. 27 to Sept. 29. Both tournaments will be held at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.