By Jessie Tobin
The University of Tampa women’s tennis team played their first conference match this season with a home opener against Nova Southeastern on Tuesday, March 2. They played another game against the number one ranked team in the conference, Barry University, following Thursday, March 4.
With their season completely cut last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the women are eager to get back on the court.
“It’s exciting to be back competing and playing and cheering on my teammates,” said Amanda Baxter, a senior, “the intensity and excitement in a match are hard to reciprocate at practice, so it makes game days that more exciting. Going on the court and giving it your all and watching your teammates do the same is so rewarding because we get to see all the hard work we put in every day.”
Since early September, the team has been practicing and did not get to play any regular fall pre-season matches due to the pandemic. The group usually plays around two tournaments in the fall and three practice matches against junior colleges.
Tennis is a low-risk sport, so the team has not faced too many changes that have affected competition. But like other sports in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC), the team cannot travel overnight, and they can not interact with their opponents after matches.
“A huge part of tennis is etiquette and specifically shaking hands after a match. Due to COVID-19, instead of shaking hands, we now tap rackets with our opponents,” Dakota Busch, a junior, explained.
The team will begin to play more constantly now through April up until the Sunshine State Championships. For the past couple of months, the team has played matches once a week against each other to simulate a real game.
“We have been training hard and pushing each other for the last months now and have been playing very well,” said Anine Wilberg, a freshman from Oslo, Norway. “This week will be the most challenging week in our season because we are meeting number 1 and 3 in our conference. Even though these matches will be challenging, we are always willing to give it all and do our best.”
The team lost to both Nova Southeastern and Barry University, but the team focused on one crucial match against Florida Southern University on Wednesday, March 17.
“Our biggest rival this year would be Florida Southern College,” said head coach Al DuFaux. “They are only taking four schools to conference playoffs this year, so what we need to do is beat Florida Southern.”
Usually, eight teams will make conference playoffs with a limited season this year, and they are cutting the number of teams competing at conference playoffs. The sunshine state conference is the top Division II conference in the nation, and the SSC has four teams that are ranked top 10 in the country.
Besides the competitions, the team has a positive outlook on this season, making NCAA championships in May and continuing prepping for a strong season next year.
“I am so proud of our entire team this season. Not only have we managed to stay safe from COVID, but we have also gotten so much closure as the result of the pandemic,” said Busch. “Our season got cut last year, and we want to make the most of the opportunity we are getting to play and not taking anything for granted.”