It’s hard to believe a team that won a conference tournament championship last season and followed it up with a 14-7 record this year would be flying under the radar, but that’s the case for the Elon University women’s tennis team.
Playing in a new conference — the Colonial Athletic Association — with six freshmen, there’s an element of the unknown clouding the team.
“Most of our opponents don’t know us that well and haven’t seen most of our players,” said freshman Erica Braschi.
Braschi said the young roster is an advantage for the Phoenix because the new players are unfamiliar to their opponents.
While they are all still freshmen, they have gained plenty of experience throughout the season. Of the six, five of them saw action this year and accounted for 48 of the 78 singles wins.
“We’ve played so many matches, so we are confident and we do feel like we have experience,” Braschi said.
Three of the five players who won double-digit matches were freshmen. Braschi and fellow freshman Olivia Lucas won 12 matches, creating a three-way tie for most singles wins this year with senior Barbora Lazarova. Freshman Kamilla Beisenova also broke into double figures by winning 10 matches.
Lazarova has seen her freshmen teammates gain experience and confidence this season but says the CAA Tournament is a new challenge.
Lazarova and fellow senior Maria Camara Ruiz will be tasked with preparing the young squad for tournament play and how to handle their emotions.
“Maria and I can give them really good advice about everything [tournament wise],” Lazarova said.
Lazarova said she always feels like she is playing her best tennis during the conference tournament because she has never lost a conference tournament match in her singles career.
The one element missing from Elon’s preparation for the tournament is its first opponent.
The CAA Women’s Tennis Championship seeding uses factors including record, Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) ranking, record against other schools in the conference and strength of schedule before selecting the matchups.
“It’s a little bit different because not everybody plays each other, so we’ll see how that works,” said head coach Elizabeth Anderson.
With no regular season conference schedule and only one CAA school ranked in the ITA top 75 in the April 7 poll, the seeding for the conference tournament is wide open.
The Phoenix has taken on three CAA schools this spring, defeating both James Madison University 4-3 March 21 as well as reigning conference champion University of North Carolina at Wilmington 6-1 March 12.
Elon’s lone loss to conference opposition came at the hands of the College of Charleston Cougars April 10. The Phoenix blew a 3-1 to allow College of Charleston to escape with a 4-3 win.
James Madison, UNCW and College of Charleston represent some of the best women’s tennis teams the CAA has to offer. According to Lazarova, encounters with those schools will only help the team prepare for the CAA Tournament.
“It’s good we’ve played all of these teams because now we know how to beat them,” she said.
One top team Elon didn’t face during the season was the College of William & Mary, slated to host the men’s and women’s CAA tournaments. The Tribe was ranked No. 62 in the nation in the ITA’s April 7 rankings, the only ranked CAA team. Elon was set to face William & Mary Feb. 27, but the match was canceled because of a snowstorm.
The Tribe ended its season with a 13-6 overall record and reached a ranking as high as 34 in the ITA at the end of March. Its only CAA matchup was a 7-0 win against the College of Charleston Feb. 22.
Lazarova welcomes a potential matchup against William & Mary and loves the idea of challenging the Tribe on its home court.
“[Playing the Tribe is] what we’ve been working for,” she said. “Next weekend, hopefully we’ll be playing William & Mary.”
With opponents and seeding completely out of her control, Anderson is focusing on what’s in the team’s grasp. According to her, the key to winning the CAA Tournament is being well rested, hydrated and prepared to take the court.
“The tournament is just a grind and a matter of who wants to stay out there the longest,” Anderson said.
Elon will play Towson University at noon Friday in the quarterfinals of the CAA Championships. To reach the championship match, the Phoenix will need to win one match Friday and one Saturday.