By Troy M. Ortiz
You could define a season by its triumphs or its challenges. You could listen to coaches and players riff about the heart and camaraderie of a short-handed tennis team. For them to struggle would be expected, to learn how they thrived would be surprising.
The 2008 UC Santa Cruz women’s tennis team has overcome the adversity of being a small team with a taxing schedule.
The Slugs defeated visiting Chapman University 5–0 on Saturday, April 12. The win improved their Division III record to 7–1.
Last year, Chapman University arrived in Santa Cruz to prepare an end to the Slug’s hopes of a national tournament bid — and they almost did so by defeating UCSC. Despite the loss, Santa Cruz went on to qualify for nationals. They made it past the first round of play before losing in the second. The Slugs expect to build on the experience of last season.
“The goal is to become a champion,” senior Chayla Furlong said. “Off the court and on, to carry oneself in a demeanor fitting of a winner — winning is a mentality.”
Collegiate women’s tennis matches are formatted into three doubles matches and six singles matches, with one point awarded to the winning players’ team. The first team to reach five points wins.
On Saturday, playing Chapman University at home with a team of six, UCSC took an early 3–0 lead.
Jessica Ruth and Megan Sweeney, the No. 3 doubles team in the region, played against Chapman’s Elizabeth Louis and Kelly Fox and ignited an early and decisive win. Ruth and Sweeney won their match 8–3.
Furlong, teamed with lone freshman Taylor Mannix, winning 8–4 and sophomores Kyla Rowe and Chrissy Nicholl completed the doubles round sweep with a dominant 8–3 victory.
At intermission, leading 3–0, the Slugs knew that two singles victories out of six would end Chapman’s hopes for the afternoon.
“We have to come out fighting,” head coach Erin Ness said. “We don’t have the luxury of any mental vacations.”
Sweeney quickly made the score 4–0 by defeating Fox in two straight sets. Furlong clinched the win a few minutes later.
Championship teams are gauged by their response to adversity as much as — if not more than — by their success. A women’s tennis team is made up of about 10 players, and Division I schools often carry more players and upperclassmen. The UCSC team consists of three seniors, two sophomores and a freshman.
Jessica Ruth, a three-year veteran and the No. 4 singles player in the western region, leads a team determined to exceed expectations.
“One of our struggles has been having a short-handed team,” Ruth said. “[But] this is by far the strongest team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
As the regular season comes to a close, the team’s attention will be narrowly focused on post-season play.
“Such a commanding win over Chapman will really push us strongly toward nationals,” Sweeney said.
Despite all the elements working against them, the Slugs are optimistic that they can bring the same intensity of Saturday’s match into the post-season.
“This is a special team,” Ness said. “They play every match with heart. If we can come out and play every match with the same intensity as today, we’ll make the elite eight.”