Womens Tennis | Young team to take on West Coast competition next week

After an offseason full of hard work, team building and rehabilitation, the women’s tennis team, ranked No. 18 in Div. III, is ready to kick off the spring season in California next week.

Tufts will compete against three nationally-ranked teams on their trip to the West Coast, including Claremont Mudd Scrips, the No. 4 team in Div. III.

After last year’s disappointing spring break trip to Atlanta, in which Tufts lost three matches by a score of 5-4, the team is looking for strong performances to start the season. The Jumbos have the opportunity to make an early statement to their local competition by playing well against other top schools.

“We’re looking for team results first,” freshman Alexa Meltzer said. “Hopefully, we can use these matches to put a few early wins under our belt and start building momentum for the rest of the season.”

Meltzer is one of six freshmen on this young team, whose talent and potential have been clear from the season’s onset.

Tufts won two of its three head-to-head matchups in the fall semester against Babson (7-2) and Brandeis (8-1), with five of the top six singles spots taken by freshmen. Under the guidance of senior captain and top singles player Samantha Gann, the freshmen — Conner Calabro, Jacqueline Baum, Chelsea Hayashi, Hanna Slutsky, Irem Bugdayci and Meltzer — are making the transition from their mostly individual careers in the junior circuit to a unified team atmosphere.

“Everyone stepped in and wanted to be best friends, supporting each other on and off the court,” Gann said. “We’re all so excited to play for one another and work hard for one another.”

Meltzer echoed those sentiments.

“It’s great there are so many of us who are new. That [fact] and the upperclassmen have made the transition easy,” Meltzer said. “I love [playing on a team] — I like it a lot more than the junior [circuit], where it seems like everyone is cutthroat and competitive in a bad way. Here everyone is together, taking a lot of the individual pressure off.”

Having played almost exclusively competitive singles throughout the junior circuit, the young Jumbos have had to put a lot of emphasis on doubles this offseason. The three doubles matches are played before the six singles matches in a dual match, meaning the performance in doubles often sets the tone for the rest of the matches.

“In [the] junior [circuit], I didn’t play a lot of doubles, and I think that’s the same for the other girls,” Meltzer said. “We’ve been working on it a lot, not so much technically, but learning how to play doubles. We’re working on good positioning on the court and getting used to playing with someone else out there. It’s important: We want to get those three early points in our matches.”

After a slew of injury issues in the fall season, another point of emphasis for Tufts during this offseason was to be healthy and focus on fitness in the gym.

“A big priority for the [team and myself] is fitness and making sure we’re all ready for the beginning of the season,” Gann said. “A major goal we have is to never lose because of fitness. Everyone is doing really well.”

The team’s fitness will be tested with four matches in five days out west, where they will play La Verne, Denison, Azusa Pacific and Claremont Mudd Scripps. The stretch will be by far the busiest of the season for Tufts; a week of good results in the Los Angeles heat will provide encouragement for an already confident group.

“We want to peak at the point in the season where we should be peaking, and winning our spring break matches will be a very good start,” Gann said. “Every year we want to win a National Championship — that’s always our main goal — but it’s just as important to focus on small goals along the way. We have to stay focused, play our best tennis in every match and limit giving away free points and games.”