By Richard Pera | Staff Writer
Even in the offseason, tennis is never far from the minds of the Kenyon Ladies. The new season is rapidly approaching, and the team will face the University of Northwest Ohio in Gambier this Saturday. Members of the team have been preparing for this moment since the final competition of the fall season in September.
Head Coach Scott Thielke, in his 21st season at the helm of the women’s team, expressed confidence about the work his players have put in on their own.
“The players know specifically what they need to work on in the offseason,” he said.
Since most tennis players practice year-round from a young age, working out during the winter is something to which they are already accustomed. The team has been holding official practices for about two weeks, and will embark on their competitive season this weekend.
Like the start of any new campaign, the team will have to compensate for the loss of team members from the previous season who graduated. The Ladies must replace the contributions of four players: Amanda Polster ’13, Amy Schlessman ’13, Stephanie White ’13 and Lydia Winkler ’13. Schlessman was one of the most successful players in the program’s history; she appeared in the national championships twice (2010 and 2012), earned All-American status, was honored with the Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award in her senior season and was a four-time recipient of the Scholar-Athlete Award.
Despite the graduation of major talent, Thielke called the future outlook for the team “solid.” Although a cursory glance at the team’s roster will show that this is a very young team — composed of one first year, one junior, one senior and seven sophomores — Thielke is not concerned that its relative youth will be a hindrance this season.
“The majority of our sophomores got a lot of playing time last year,” he explained. “They’re all going to get quite a lot of playing time this year.”
Taylor Diffley ’16 is one of those sophomore athletes who stepped into a significant role early in her Kenyon career. Last year, she played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles alongside Schlessman. Lauren Hoffman ’16, Madison Hoffman ’16, Samantha Murphy ’16 and Abigail Younger ’15 are also regulars from last year’s lineup who are expected to continue making a profound impact on the team’s fortunes. Elise Altschuler ’16, Samantha Betts ’14 and Claire Cohen ’16 entered the lineup in the fall of this year and should continue to be in the mix this season.
Jenna Murray ’17, the team’s lone first year, found her place with the Ladies early on. She proved her mettle as Diffley’s doubles partner in the fall; they won their first match together by a score of 9-7 at the Oberlin College Invitational in September.
“[Murray] will definitely be a starter in both singles and doubles,” Thielke said.
Thielke said he doesn’t expect this year’s training program to be a major deviation from the norm.
“For the most part, tennis is a repetition sport,” he said. “It really comes down to [the] number of balls that you hit during practice. Unlike basketball or football, you don’t watch a lot of film.”
Barring Spring Break, the team will have at least one match every week from now until the conclusion of the season in April. After this weekend’s matchup, the Ladies will face Otterbein University and the University of Chicago in Gambier on Feb. 8-9.