As the Seton Hall women’s tennis kicks off their spring season, the Pirates are eager to find their rhythm and shake off the cobwebs of winter break.
So far, Seton Hall has gotten off to a 1-2 start with losses to Fordham and Army West Point, along with a dominant win over Marist.
After a successful fall season, second-year coach Riza Zalameda utilized the team’s 13-week break as a way to refocus her players ahead of a grueling four-month stretch of games before Big East play in April.
“It’s always tough with a schedule like this because tennis is a year-round sport,” Zalameda said. “That’s why you really try to emphasize winter break conditioning, winter break training. It’s really about rest and recovery, but you also can’t lose everything you built in the fall.”
Zalameda said the team took its winter break fitness regimen seriously, regularly working out and practicing to keep muscles fresh. The team respected the need to stay game-ready while simultaneously using the break to relax before resuming the difficult balance between athletics and academics.
After a successful first season under Zalameda, the Pirates kept turning in standout performances in the fall.
Notably, Katie Kim and Melody Taal went 5-0 in singles, while Anna Fajnorova compiled a 4-0 singles record and Thandy Kangwa held the team-best 3-1 doubles record. Sophomore Michal Matson, who currently leads the team in doubles victories with a 4-2 record to date, said she thinks her teammates’ energy on the court and dedication to improving upon the weaker areas of their game contributed heavily to their success in the fall.
“The fall results are just a great stepping stone to see where we are, and all the girls had great performances,” Matson said.
Matson added that her teammates’ cumulative 22-12 singles record and 16-10 doubles mark indicate the team is no longer an underdog in the Big East.
Despite finishing last season with an 8-10 record and going 1-4 in Big East play, the Pirates battled in the conference tournament before falling to DePaul in the semifinals. With nearly the entire roster returning, it seems the potential exists for another postseason push this spring.
Zalameda expressed a desire to grow the program’s reputation off the court and engage the community, emphasizing her desire to use the team as a means of alumni retention.
“I’m thinking that it’s important that our alumni come back,” Zalameda said. “It’s different just to create friendships and connections, but we need to…make an impression and establish good, strong bonds so that our alumni keep coming back to support us.”
Zalameda said the Pirates will host an alumni and friends weekend where Seton Hall graduates can watch the team face Fairleigh Dickinson on Feb. 17 and join them for the men’s basketball game on Feb. 18. According to Zalameda, the program will also invite inner-city children to play before its match against Hofstra on March 30 and Seton Hall faculty to play tennis during a practice the second week of April.
With tough competition for the Pirates in the weeks ahead, Zalameda and Matson agree the team must take challenges one game at a time. Still, the Pirates have one eye on the start of Big East play, which begins against reigning conference champion DePaul on March 31.
“Really, now it’s just playing matches, getting our groove on, seeing the areas we need to improve on [before] spring break going into training,” Matson said. “We don’t want to be one of those teams that lies down. We want to walk onto the court and people know that [against] Seton Hall, if you want to win, you’re gonna be out here for five hours at least.”
Bob Towey can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BobTowey5.