There is something very different about Jenny Hois’ tennis game these days.
It isn’t her sharp backhands down the line. It isn’t her tenacious defense, covering every inch of the baseline as if she were a professional like Kim Clijsters or Gael Monfils. In fact, it isn’t anything tangible at all.
For Hois, the difference is her teammates.
Growing up in Downers Grove, a Southwest suburb of Chicago, Hois, now a freshman on the Wisconsin women’s tennis team, primarily focused on United States Tennis Association (USTA) tournaments as her young career progressed.
Success in the USTA and building national rankings depend solely on the performance of an individual player, meaning that before Wisconsin, Hois didn’t receive the valuable support of a tennis team.
But playing with her Badger teammates has brought Hois’ game up to a new level.
“Now I have something to play for other than myself,” Hois said. “Whenever I’m out on the court and there’s something that I’m doubting or I’m just not feeling it, that’s where the team comes through and they push me. I’ve gotten through so many matches already just because they’re behind me, and I am fighting for them.”
The team aspect couldn’t have come at a better time for the freshman, as, according to Hois, when she came to Wisconsin she wasn’t playing her best tennis. After almost a full fall and spring season, however, she now believes she is.
Hois began her Badger career with four straight singles losses, but following the brief losing streak, broke off seven straight wins to turn the season around.
The freshman continued to improve, and head coach Brian Fleishman eventually moved her from No. 3 singles to No. 2 and then finally to No. 1 in late March, overtaking fellow freshman Nicky Stracar in the process.
“During the recruiting process I did tell her that I was expecting her to come in and be a program changer,” Fleishman said. “I didn’t know to what level because I hate putting freshman in those top positions, but she’s earned it.
At the top singles spot for Wisconsin, Hois has aggregated a record of 3-3. Earlier in the season the freshman went 7-2 at No. 2 and 3-0 at No. 3.
Last week Hois took out Michigan State’s Amy Barton, who was then ranked 121st in the country, in three sets (6-0, 3-6, 6-1), which marked her biggest win for Wisconsin to date.
Two weeks prior to that match, the freshman pushed North Carolina State’s 24th ranked Sanaa Bhambri to the brink in their first set, losing it 5-7, and eventually losing 5-7, 2-6.
Hois has also struggled against some of the top players in the Big Ten, like No. 7 Denise Muresan from Michigan and Maria Mosolova of Northwestern, but she believes she is gaining invaluable experience from playing competitors of their caliber.
“I figured out exactly what I needed to improve on,” Hois said. “Just what they did better than I did. Pretty much, it was just keeping the balls in the court. They made more balls than I did, and that’s what the good players do.”
According to her coaches and teammates, Hois already does a good job of keeping balls in play and making her opponents make extra shots.
To Fleishman’s dismay, Hois believes the best part of her game is hitting the bounce overhead (sorry coach). But Jessica Seyferth, her senior teammate who plays No. 5 singles, knows that it’s Hois’ defense and fitness that gives her the edge over many players.
“She’s a very athletic player, and she’s fun to watch. I would say watching her, she can get to any ball,” Seyferth said.
Tracking down the ball on the baseline isn’t the only aspect of her game at which the freshman excels.
Hois, a natural righty, is armed with a solid serve and return game, as well as a backhand she can surprise opponents with by ripping it over the highest point of the net, down the line.
“Along with that speed, it’s a good combination. She’s kind of got a little bit of everything,” Fleishman said.
Hois has aspirations of earning All-Big Ten and All-American honors before her career at Wisconsin is over, but she knows she still has much to improve upon if she is going to realize any of those goals.
The freshman believes that she needs to work on imposing her will on the court and going out and dictating play from the outset of each match.
According to her coach, she must improve her decision making and her shot selection on the court. He’s confident that those things will eventually come with more experience.
And at No. 1 singles as a freshman, there’s a good chance Hois is going to get all the experience she can handle.