As all of the schools in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) arrive on Elon’s campus, the Elon University men’s and women’s tennis teams enter the CAA Championships with some striking similarities.
Both teams are playing extremely well.
The men’s team has won nine of its last 10 matches, with the lone loss a close defeat to conference foe College of Charleston. Yet a few players have caught the “Elon plague,” and head coach Michael Leonard is focusing on keeping his players on the court.
“We’re just trying to stay healthy,” Leonard said. “We’re playing well, but we have a couple of guys under the weather. We just need to get them healthy for the tournament. That’s our big thing right now.”
But that pales in comparison to the women’s team’s ragged run, as Elon has won eight straight matches heading into the conference tournament. With four of those wins coming against CAA competition, their confidence is high entering Friday’s quarterfinal match.
“We’re peaking really well, and at a good time,” said head coach Elizabeth Anderson. “I think that’s really good, and it’s just a matter of fine-tuning things. … As a team, everyone’s playing their best tennis right now.”
Overall, the women went 5-1 against CAA competition on the season, with the only loss coming to nationally-ranked College of William & Mary Jan. 29. Elon played all four North Carolina Atlantic Coast Conference schools early in the season, losing to all but gaining experience from the matches.
“I think it’s made us better,” Anderson said. “It was really hard in the beginning of the season because we are used to winning more than we were, but it built a lot more character and toughness in our team as a whole. Now, it’s really made us a lot stronger of a team by going through that together.”
While the women’s team has won more matches recently, the men’s team has the better record of the season, going 16-5 in the spring compared to the women’s 13-9 record. With multiple key contributors — such as freshmen Felipe Sarrasague and Salvador Mijares — joining the program just 10 days before the season started, the success has been startling and satisfying.
“You never know because you don’t know how they’re going to deal with the moment,” Leonard said. “We especially have these two guys: Felipe, who’s just a great competitor, and Salvador who’s been our steady rock. They’ve really embraced it. Those guys were able to step in right away in singles and contribute. Those guys have tremendously helped our team.”
Leonard mentioned that neither player has played doubles much this season, as playing with another player is more about chemistry than talent. He expects both will be able to contribute even more as sophomores, like women’s tennis sophomore Erica Braschi has done this season.
Braschi went 15-4 in singles on the year and has won 11 straight matches in singles. Along with Sarrasague’s 14-5 record in singles and 10 straight wins in singles, Elon has a candidate for CAA Player of the Year on each team. And each player has a chance to do it on their home court.
Elon’s history of hosting championships at the Jimmy Powell Tennis Center is strong, as the Phoenix hosted all five Big South Conference Championships it played in from 1999-2003. The Phoenix also hosted two Southern Conference Championships in 2009 and 2013.
But in each tournament, neither Elon team was able to find success, as the only conference championship in either program’s history came in 2014 when both teams won their respective titles.
And both coaches and teams are fired up to have their team play in front of a home crowd.
“They’re really excited,” Anderson said. “A lot of their parents are coming, and families as well. To be able to play on your courts for the conference tournament is a really cool thing. I’m really excited for them to be able to experience that.”
Leonard added, “I hope this place is just full of people, because it’s going to be a great environment. I hope we can pack this place, as our guys are going to feed off of it. We’ve got guys who want a big crowd, so the more, the merrier.”