In their first season back in action, the AU women’s tennis team lost in the first round of the HCAC tournament Friday night. After starting their season 0-3, the ladies turned it around posting a 7-1 record in their last eight games to tie for second place in the conference. Due to tiebreakers, the Ravens were the fourth seed out of six in the tournament.
In his first season with the women’s team, head coach Bryant Beard set out to be competitive despite the team’s one year hiatus. The squad exceeded expectations, finishing in a three-way tie for second place after being picked to finish seventh in the conference.
“I am very pleased with how the first regular season went,” said Beard. “These ladies have shown so much growth in such a short period of time, and they’re incredibly humble about their accomplishments. They stayed focus on our goals and persevered throughout this season despite challenges that other programs simply did not have, and that is what I am most proud of.”
Beard intentionally scheduled tough opponents for the beginning of the season to challenge his players. Knowing full well that the conference standings were all that mattered, he used the first few losses to teach his players to fight.
“While the beginning of the season was challenging, the ladies came together with the right attitude, and I believe that they learned to fight from the beginning,” Beard added. “Mostly, I believe the success towards the end of the season came from their belief in themselves.”
Reviving a program and combining old and new players is no easy task. The women learned to overcome these issues, however, and ended the year as a very close group. The team will be graduating three seniors, including Abby Kirkman who helped lead the Ravens as number two singles and doubles. She believes that her last season was her best yet.
“I was nervous coming in,” said Kirkman. “I was scared we wouldn’t have the right chemistry and wouldn’t work together since it is partially an individual sport, but everyone played a vital part in the season, and we all worked hard.”
“The dynamics will continue shifting for next year,” she added. “But with new recruits coming in and our returning players, I feel like we’ve laid a great foundation for what the program will become in future years.”
Even with the Ravens red-hot end to conference play, they were shut out by Rose-Hulman in the first round of the HCAC tournament. Earlier in the season, the team went toe-to-toe with the Fightin’ Engineers and came out with a 5-4 win. This time around, the Ravens were unable to keep up, abruptly ending their exciting season.
Without losing sight on all that his team accomplished this season, Beard is excited for what is to come for the rejuvenated program.
“I am greatly excited to see the momentum carry into next season,” said Beard. “We have three seniors graduating which will leave three empty varsity spots, but I know we will have the right individuals on our team or coming in that we can move up. The leadership of this year’s seniors and the rest of the team has actually made it easier to prepare for their vacancy because they also influence the recruitment process with how they carry themselves.”
“I think we rocked it this season,” added Kirkman. “Coach Beard really helped push us to new levels of tennis that we hadn’t been pushed to reach in the past. I’m sad I only get to participate in the revamped program for one year, but I’m excited to see what is coming for AU tennis.”
Many players plan to continue working out together throughout the rest of the school year. The ladies will have some more opportunities to improve when they play in two exhibition matches in the spring.
“I believe we will continue to improve in our tennis ability as well as our experience,” said Beard. “This HCAC conference has improved in talent, making it more difficult, but we want to be in the final of the HCAC Championship next year.”
The Ravens finished the 2016 season fifth in the conference and were eliminated from the tournament in the first round. This was their last season before the program was cut.