Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
The start of the season for Berry’s men’s and women’s tennis teams has been repeatedly disrupted by the weather, but with a week-long trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina, coming up over spring break, the teams are ready to finally get their season going.
Clay Hightower, the head coach for both the men’s and women’s teams, said the teams have faced a couple of setbacks these past few weeks, most notably the heavy rain. Hightower said that practices have been rescheduled because of the weather, which has hindered his ability to assess his players.
“We really haven’t been able to set our line-up,” Hightower said. “Generally, you play challenge matches and it gives everybody an equal opportunity to earn a position within the top six, and we weren’t able to really finish all of that because we had so much rain. If everybody were at practice every day, it works, but there’s always somebody with a lab or an afternoon class, so they can’t make it. And then the time they can make it, whoever they need to play is not there, and then the next time they’re both there it rains, so we’ve just had trouble getting the line-up set.”
Senior Jordan Crance said the cancelled practices have also been affecting player levels.
“It hurts a lot with our scheduling, because we had to keep pushing back practice,” Crance said. “And then we’re not feeling as comfortable going in, cardio wise, fitness wise. We usually have to do a lot of workouts on the side, but we don’t get a lot of play, so it just throws you off a little bit.”
Hightower said that, in addition to dealing with the adverse weather, the women’s team has also had to contend with sickness going around. Because in tennis the line-up is set up so that the team’s best player plays the opposition’s best player, players missing out can have a big impact on results, according to him.
“It’s a pretty significant thing when you take somebody out of your line-up in tennis,” Hightower said. “If you don’t have your two, your three moves to two, your four to three, your five to four, your six to five, so where you might have been slightly better in every matchup, now most likely you’re not.”
Despite these setbacks, Hightower said he was pleased with his players. Sophomore Allison Ivey mirrored this sentiment, saying she was especially happy with the five freshmen joining the women’s team.
“Preseason was really good,” Ivey said. “I think the girls, especially the freshmen, are growing in confidence and showing a lot of promise for the team. It’s definitely a lot of new talent, which I think is good. It’s a lot of adjustment for just how the team dynamic works, but it’s turned out really well. All the girls get along really well, and it’s really cool having new faces and new talent to bring to the team.”
After losing their season openers, both teams have bounced back to win their last two games, including a success against Division II Clark Atlanta University for the women. Hightower said they were looking to play more games against tougher or higher division teams this season as they get ready for conference play, and the upcoming week in Hilton Head will notably include matchups against DII Assumption College for the men and DI Norfolk State University for the women.
The trip will see both teams play five games in the span of six days, and Crance said the amount of playtime will be crucial to improving for the rest of the season.
“I think it helps us figure out the nuances of our game,” Crance said. “I’ve only played three matches and I don’t get to practice very often, but if I play match after match after match after match, you start figuring out what works better.”
Ivey said the week will be a great opportunity to increase confidence with strong results, but also a chance for players to bond further.
“It’ll be a great team bonding, which I think will help our team skill-level wise in the long run as well,” Ivey said. “I think the confidence boost will help us, but we’ll hopefully get some good competition as well.”
Hightower said the bonding experience could help when it comes to double play, which is something the team still needs to work on. He also said he hoped the number of games would give him a chance to experiment in that area.
“They’re spending a lot of time together, and we will also get to experiment a little bit with pairings,” Hightower said. “Especially if it’s a team that we feel like we can beat them, maybe there we pull somebody out and try another pairing of doubles, just to see if it might be better. We’re really looking forward to it, mostly just to get into some slightly warmer weather and hopefully no rain.”
With conference play set to begin one week after the players return to Berry, Ivey said their week away will be vital to their hopes moving forward.
“I think it’s taking what we learn from Hilton Head and from our scrimmages that don’t necessarily count for conference records, and taking those experiences and applying that to the matches that actually count for the record, for the season,” Ivey said.