For the Wisconsin women’s tennis team and the 2011 season, the curtain closes on a heart-breaking scene.
After grabbing the first three points of its conference tournament quarterfinal match against Ohio State this past weekend, Wisconsin proceeded to drop four straight matches and lose to the Buckeyes once again, 4-3.
Though the Badgers finished the year with a winning record (14-10, 5-5), the loss to Ohio State mirrors many of those they suffered throughout the course of the regular season.
“That’s honestly been the story of the last couple of years with this tennis program,” sophomore Hannah Berner said. “We’re competitive, but we don’t pull out the big wins.”
Looking ahead to next season, it’s those close matches the team needs to begin turning around in its favor.
This year, Wisconsin lost four matches 4-3 and another match 5-2 after winning the doubles point.
Still, even with several tough losses, head coach Brian Fleishman believes the season was still very much a success.
“This is the best season we’ve had in 10 years here at Wisconsin, which says a lot about the girls that are on the team right now,” Fleishman said.
The Badgers do have several positives to draw from as they prepare for the forthcoming fall season.
The team will return the majority of its starting lineup, but not senior captain Jessica Seyferth.
The minimal lineup turnover is important, according to Berner, as the team had a difficult time at the beginning of the season adjusting to the new players on the team this year.
And as college tennis is a team sport, chemistry is paramount.
“Four newcomers is a half a team,” Berner said. “I think that might be why it has taken us so long to mesh well. But I think for next year we’ll definitely be more comfortable, we’ll know what we’re getting ourselves into.”
Wisconsin will, however, add one more piece to the puzzle, as it has recruited German-native Sarah Loebel to come play in Madison next season.
According to Fleishman, the German tennis season is played mostly indoors, and as most of Wisconsin’s matches also take place inside, her experience should immediately help the team.
What’s more impressive to Fleishman, though, is Loebel’s game itself.
“She’s a baseliner that hits a flat ball,” Fleishman said. “She’s a very fast player, very quick around the court and athletic enough to retrieve and play defense. That’s a good combination.”
Fleishman believes his new recruit will come in and contribute at a high level right away. The head coach also hopes Loebel will push freshmen standouts Nicky Stracar and Jenny Hois, both of whom had impressive first years for the Badgers.
Stracar and Hois themselves are another positive for Wisconsin as the team moves forward.
It isn’t often that freshmen can come in and contribute not only as players, but also as leaders of a team.
“They surprised me a lot just because from a freshman’s standpoint they’re supposed to be learning from the other girls,” Fleishman said. “They’re supposed to be watching and seeing how the other girls on the team are doing it, and these two freshmen came in this year and really took a lot of initiative.”
Regardless of who returns to the team, if Wisconsin is going to succeed next year and improve its record in the Big Ten, it will take nothing less than hard work.
Over the offseason, in coordination with the strength and condition coach, Fleishman gives his players a stringent training schedule in order to stay in shape for the next year.
But as most of the players go home for the summer, it’s up to them to follow it.
“We have to find it within ourselves to work as hard as we can over the summer and improve upon our weaknesses so we can come out strong in the fall,” Hois said.
To begin next season, Fleishman believes that either Stracar or Hois will anchor the starting rotation at No. 1 singles.
But to begin turning around the close matches they’ll likely have, the top of the order can’t be the only successful part of the team.
“The best part of this team is our depth,” Berner said. “Everyone can compete at that number one spot; it depends on who’s playing well, who’s mentally more confident. I think [No. 1 singles] is up for grabs, but it’s more about the depth of our team and being able to win at all six spots.”