Mizzou tennis optimistic after 2014-15 season

Mizzou tennis optimistic after 2014-15 seasonMizzou tennis optimistic after 2014-15 seasonMizzou tennis optimistic after 2014-15 season

 

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By Joey Gjata, 23 Sports

Wednesday, April 29—

The Missouri Tigers tennis team finished 2015 with a 9-18 record on the year, dropping all 13 matches in a star-studded SEC. However, it was anything but a forgetful season for the Black and Gold.

The Tigers began the season on a 7-2 stretch, with six of the wins coming as sweeps. However, aside from a thrilling 4-3 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the final non-conference match of the year, Mizzou fell into a winless drought for nearly two months during the SEC season.

The Season’s Silver Lining

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In the SEC Tournament first round, Mizzou was matched up against No. 36 Arkansas. Despite the top-40 national ranking, the Razorbacks were ranked just 11th in the conference.

Head coach Sasha Schmid knew the challenge was one of a high order, but by the same token she was not surprised her squad was able to pull off the 4-3 upset in Columbia, South Carolina.

“We believed our best shot in that match was lower in the lineup in singles and in doubles,” Schmid said. “And true to form, we won matches at No. 5 and No. 6 singles after getting the doubles point.”

It was freshman Clare Raley and sophomore Madison Rhyner who came through in the back end of the lineup. The pair also won in separate doubles matches to help the Tigers take the doubles point.

With the overall score tied at 3-3 and the final match to decide the winning team, the Tigers turned to sophomore Beatriz Machado-Santos. The Portuguese played an all-out classic defeating Arkansas’ Makenzie Craft in a third set tiebreak, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (5), at No. 3 singles.

“It would have been difficult for any team in our league to beat Arkansas, let alone a team that went 0-13,” coach Schmid said. “I think it said a lot about the resiliency of our team.”

Schmid was particularly proud of the Machado-Santos’ play in the final match.

“When it came down to Bea [Machado-Santos], she just had an amazing performance and you could really see her progress,” Schmid said. “She was so tenacious and the win at No. 3 singles really said a lot about her, and then she took that same confidence into the next match against LSU, defeating another great opponent.”

In that final match of the year against No. 22 LSU in the second round, Machado-Santos was the only Mizzou triumph, knocking off Abby Owens, 7-6 (5), 6-4, in the team’s 4-1 loss. Machado-Santos finished the year off with 10 wins, including three in the SEC.

“It’s the toughest conference in the nation and some people even said it would be more difficult to win the SEC than the NCAA tournament this year,” Schmid said. “It’s not a confidence builder in this league [losing 13 straight] because you are under pressure every match. But, I felt like they did a great job. They showed fight and hunger.”

The Emergence of a Leader

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Despite having plenty of parity this season, the Tigers still suffered overwhelming defeats when looking at the stat sheet. The team needed a leader to keep everyone focused and positive, and junior Kelli Hine took that role.

“If you asked anyone on the team, they would say she [Hine] is the heart and soul of the team. She is the absolute epitome of a college student-athlete,” Schmid said. “She is always the first in the facility and the last to leave. She really lives by the value and importance of hard work. She doesn’t just speak about it, she lives it.”

Hine finished the year off with 10 wins, including two remarkable victories in SEC play at No. 1 singles. She knocked off No. 85 Nadia Ravita of No. 20 Kentucky, 6-3, 0-6, 6-3, in late March. She then defeated the No. 28 player in the nation, Erin Routliffe, from No. 11 Alabama.

“This year was definitely hard. It was very challenging for the team in trying to figure out how to improve. It really was a growing period for our team,” Hine said. “I think we got a little sick of hearing how close we were [to winning], but in reality we are and now we just got to figure out how to get to the next step.”

Hine valued her role as a team leader throughout the difficult season,

“Above all, I think for my team I needed to be a rock. No matter what the score was, I had to be the one to get them upbeat and keep a short-term memory,” Hine said.

Hine’s leadership was also noticed in and around the Mizzou community. The Texas native received her second consecutive SEC Community Service Team honors from the league office two weeks ago.

“It’s just part of who I am. I’ve always loved being a part of the community and it’s so much more fun because we have such a platform here,” Hine said. “To see a Mizzou athlete that cares for them [the community] can make a big difference beyond the classroom and tennis court.”

A Promising Future

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The Tigers will say farewell to senior Alex Clark. The England native finished her senior season 2-3 in singles to go along with three doubles victories.

The rest of the team will remain intact as Hine, Machado-Santos, Raley, Rhyner, Cassidy Spearman, Brianna Lashway and Brittany Lashway are all set to return.

Missouri tennis is excited to welcome incoming freshman sensation Turner Gates from Mississippi. Yates will become only the second ever top-25 recruit to sign with the Tigers. In fact, she has been ranked as the top player in the state of Mississippi since the age of nine.

When Yates arrives to Columbia in the fall she will team up with a close friend and fellow ranked junior tennis player in Raley.

With all the potential development in store, coupled with another year of SEC-caliber tennis under their belt, the Tigers have a bright future on the horizon.

“Seven girls will return and we’ll be welcoming Turner Gates from Mississippi,” coach Schmid said. “I don’t think anyone feels defeated or satisfied, but we also feel that it’s within our reach to improve and we are all motivated with a chip on our shoulder to show people that we can do it.”