Rarely do collegiate sports teams get second chances these days.
With major overhauls of personnel nearly every year, it’s never easy for teams to build on high-achieving years in successive seasons.
But the Wisconsin women’s tennis team is undergoing such a change since head coach Tina Samara took over last year, with a chance to reinvent themselves after two disappointing seasons.
“I feel so good about the future,” Samara said. “No one is graduating, we’re bringing in two, maybe three new players, and I feel that everyone here has so much more room for improvement. With us hosting Indoor Nationals next year and being in the tournament, we have a lot to prove. I’m excited.”
With the future looking bright, the team has expressed a strong desire to grow together and continue to improve. The Badgers have already made visible progress, rebounding from a 7-14 record in 2013-14 where they won only two in-conference matches, to already 10 wins this season with two matches left to play and postseason tournaments on the horizon.
“Part of me is happy where we’re at and part of me is frustrated,” Samara said. “We’ve been so close in a few of these Big Ten matches and came up just short in the majority of them, but have been right in there in all of them, competing. It’s overall good news when you put it into perspective from where we were a year ago.”
Wisconsin currently sits at a 10-9 record, yet a deceiving 10th spot in the Big Ten standings, only one win away from tying for fifth place. Five of the Badgers’ losses have come by a margin of one point on the team score, and a loss on Sunday to the powerhouse No. 23 Northwestern Wildcats came about by losing two singles matches through third set tie-breakers amid other close individual matchups.
Despite being a work in-progress, the team is well on its way to success through major personnel overhauls, which has left Wisconsin in a position to build from the ground up.
“When you have such a small team like this, it’s important that everyone is on board,” Samara said. “When you have a ‘bad egg’ it is hard to eliminate their impact. The personality of the team has changed drastically since last season, and we’ve been performing much better. I think we’re getting better each match.”
One of the new additions is sophomore Maria Avgerinos, who was acquired after she transferred from Syracuse University, trading orange for the red and white. A four-star recruit out of high school and the No. 188 player in the recruiting class of 2013, Avgerinos struggled through her freshman year for the Orange. She finished the campaign just 3-12 in singles and 1-8 in doubles play.
The promising Avgerinos, a native of Elmhurst, Illinois, then returned back to the Great Lakes region this off-season to help the struggling Badgers, vastly improving her play as well. Through Sunday’s match, she has gone 17-12 in singles play and 16-15 in first-pair doubles in her first season at Wisconsin.
Avgerinos is not the only one picking up slack, though. Fellow sophomore Sydney Rider has stepped her game up to a completely new level, rounding out a tough Wisconsin lineup at her usual spot of third or fifth singles.
Rider came in to the 2014-15 season with a freshman record of 9-28 in singles play. As another four-star recruit, the year was extremely disappointing for a prospect with such high hopes. However, the Maryland native redefined her game in the offseason, increasing her precision and placement skills to improve to 19-13 on the year in singles. She won her match decisively (6-1, 7-5) in the meet against No. 23 Northwestern this past Sunday.
“I’ve grown a lot since last year,” Rider said. “Last year was a hard adjustment for me, going from juniors to collegiate. The competition is much tougher here, but I’ve gotten a lot more confident. I had a few rough matches earlier on, but I’ve settled down and feel good. This year is completely different.”
The Badgers will continue to grow their roster into next season with the addition of two more players. Kendall Kirsch, a four-star recruit from Long Grove, Illinois, is slated to join the team after verbally committing back in September. She currently sits as the 130th best player in the class of 2015. She will be joined by Nathalie Joanlanne, a three-star recruit from Dallas, Pennsylvania and the 290th ranked recruit.
Samara and other players have already expressed anticipation over the addition of the two new players to an already young roster.
“It’s been a drastic change team-wise,” Lauren Chypyha, a junior and the number one singles player, said. “Since last season, I think we have a lot more depth and more confidence. We’ve gotten a lot of good new personalities to compliment us. Our freshman are very devoted which has motivated us a lot this season. We’re a different team now.”
With such a young roster, UW will have ample time to grow together and form bonds, which could bode well for their doubles game and give them added confidence when playing singles.
A potential dark horse for the Big Ten tournament, this collection of constantly improving players under the leadership of Samara and Chypyha will become a force to be reckoned with in the near future.
“We’ll have the same team next year plus two new players,” Rider said. “We’re growing together as a team which is great for us. Next year is going to be a big year. We’ve struggled together and now we’re starting to build-up. Hopefully we’ll do some damage.”