With Southern Conference play right around the corner, the Elon University women’s tennis team is still trying to find the perfect lineup combination.  The Phoenix has worked all eight players on the roster into the lineup this season, all part of the plan to be ready for conference play beginning March 1.

One staple of the lineup over the past few seasons has been the doubles pairing of seniors Jordan Johnston and Frida Jansaker.  Heading into the spring season, the two had a doubles record of 42-4, a testament to their chemistry.  To start the season, Johnston and Jansaker were paired together at No. 1 doubles, but a slow start forced head coach Elizabeth Anderson to make a change.

Elon opened play against top-tier competition, with all of their first four opponents ranked No. 55 or higher in the nation.  After Johnston and Jansaker’s first doubles match went unfinished against No. 54 Virginia Tech, the pair lost three consecutive matches against No. 3 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, No. 4 University of Georgia and No. 55 Kansas State University.  When it came time to play its first unranked opponent in North Carolina Central University Feb. 8, the Phoenix made a change at No. 1 doubles.

Each with new doubles partners, Johnston and Jansaker have found different levels of success.  Jansaker and her new partner, junior Maria Camara Ruiz, have won three straight doubles matches heading into the team’s Feb. 26 match against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Johnston was paired with sophomore Taylor Casey for two matches, going 1-1, and junior Barbora Lazarova, whose lone match together against Radford University Feb. 22 went unfinished.  Johnston said although playing without Jansaker is different, it will benefit the team in the long run.

“It’s what’s best for the team, and we’re just trying new things out,” Johnston said.   “We’re mixing it up just to spread it across the board for all three doubles teams.”

With a team of four seniors and two juniors, Elon is an experienced team that can shuffle the lineup without missing a beat.  Since the lineup changes took place, the Phoenix is 3-0, defeating North Carolina Central, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Radford University.

“We have a team that’s very deep, so we’ve got a lot of flexibility there especially if there’s some injuries or people need a rest,” Anderson said.

This exact predicament came into play against Radford Feb. 22, when Jansaker suffered a minor injury during doubles play that forced her to sit out her singles match. Without issue, Lazarova jumped up to the No. 2 singles position, Jansaker’s usual spot, and won her match.  At the bottom of the lineup, senior Viviana Stavreva entered the lineup at No. 6 singles and also picked up a victory in a 7-0 win.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the Phoenix lineup has been the play of freshman Tolley Rice. Rice, a five-star recruit out of Pawleys Island, S.C., saw her first action of the spring season against North Carolina Central, winning a third set tiebreaker over Lynsey Cover. Rice followed this performance with a dramatic win against Hamilton Lovett of UNCW and a sweep of Radford’s Taylor Fay.

After Rice’s match-clinching win over UNCW, Anderson spoke of the experience that Rice gained by playing in that situation.

“I was really happy for Tolley that she was able to clinch it as a freshman,” Anderson said. “To be able to be in that situation and come through will help her confidence a lot in the future.”

Rice is just one of many Elon players who have stepped into the lineup and produced right away.  Whether it be an injury or a simple lineup change that forces a player into the lineup, Elon players are not asking questions, but going out and leaving it all on the court.

At this point in the season, Southern Conference play is in the forefront of the minds of the Phoenix, but the team is trying to just take it one match at a time.

“I think as a team we’re really starting to get into the conference mindset,” Johnston said. “We’re starting to get on a roll and using each match as a building block for the next one.”

Expectations were high heading into the season, and Johnston said those expectations remain, regardless of who is on the court.

“I think we have grown a lot in the past few years, and I know the seniors are looking forward to starting conference play and earning our title,” Johnston said.  “I think the hunger and desire for it is more now than it ever has been before, so I think we are right there and ready to do it starting [March 1].”


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