The Elon University’s women’s tennis team will look to reap the benefits of its baptism by fire for its top three freshmen last season. Now-sophomores Olivia Lucas, Erica Braschi and Kirsten Ward return more seasoned with a combined 32 singles matches under their belts in Elon’s debut season in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
“Our freshman class in general did a good job staying competitive with tough teams last year and now that’s a huge benefit because now coming into this year we have that experience.” Braschi said.
Braschi went 13-4 in singles play last season, playing mostly out of the No. 3 and No. 4 slots. The Dorado, Puerto Rico, native also impressed during the fall season, reaching the final of the “Phoenix” singles flight of the Elon Fall Tennis Invitation in September 2015.
Braschi brought some of her teammates with her to Puerto Rico over winter break, where they were able to get in some last-minute preparations before the start of the regular season.
Head coach Elizabeth Anderson said Elon’s freshmen didn’t play or act like rookies last season, as they grew more mature as the season progressed. Anderson noted the team’s decision to practice on their own in Puerto Rico over break speaks volumes about the team’s ambitions.
“Those are the truly good teams, the ones that work hard when the coach isn’t necessarily there,” Anderson said. “They’re one of the hardest working teams I’ve coached since I’ve been here.”
Senior Taylor Casey is not shy about speaking openly about the team’s goals.
“I want another [conference championship] ring on my finger before I graduate,” she said. “It’s something we talk about often and it’s a goal we’re ready to achieve.”
Casey was a sophomore on the 2014 team that won the Southern Conference tournament as the No. 4 seed, defeating the top two seeds Furman University and Samford University en route to the title.
As the lone senior remaining, and one of just two upperclassmen on the roster, Casey has emerged as one of the team’s leaders.
“It’s nice to come into my own and to be a leader on the team,” she said. “On and off the court, I am able to be a leader and help them with things they may not have seen before.”
Casey finished last year with a singles record of 11-6. After playing six of her opening nine matches at the No. 6 singles position, Casey became a staple at the No. 4 or No. 5 slots later in the year.
Casey arguably played her best tennis in doubles, chalking up an 18-3 record playing mostly at No. 3 doubles. Fifteen of those wins came with Braschi as a partner. Braschi said it’s no secret that her doubles partner is one of the hardest working players on the team.
“As a co-captain, she’s brought a lot of motivation to the team,” Braschi said. “She’s a very good leader and does a good job keeping things positive and getting us motivated for matches.”
Casey is the only player remaining on the Phoenix team from the last time Elon hosted a conference tournament — the SoCon tournament in 2013. Elon shut out its two opening opponents before losing to College of Charleston in the final.
Casey acted as doubles specialist in her rookie season, earning second team All-SoCon honors with teammate Briana Berne ’13.
Anderson said she’s been toying with the doubles teams with the goal of having three solid pairings across the board.
“Doubles has been a big point of emphasis for us,” she said. “If we can win a lot of doubles points, that helps in momentum situations when you get to conference tournaments.”
Even without conference play in the regular season, Anderson still scheduled six of the eight CAA schools, including a weekend trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia in early April to face James Madison University and Towson University.
“The biggest thing for me when scheduling was to make sure our schedule was strong enough that it can help us get better and continue to improve to get ready for the [conference] tournament,” Anderson said.
The Phoenix opened the season Jan. 10 with a 6-1 loss to No. 4 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.