GVSU tennis team to lean on six 'coaches'
Laker roster: Six seniors, five freshmen, no one in between
GVL/Emily Frye - GVSU tennis players Alexa Sweeney and Kristina Lucas
When head coach John Black leads the Grand Valley State University women’s tennis team onto the court this season, he’ll be joined by six other coaches.
Those coaches will then take to the court for the Lakers, some in the singles lineup and some in the doubles. Some will even play both.
These six coaches are seniors Leah Dancz, Kristina Lucas, Carola Orna, Morgan Patterson, Kali Phillips and Kelly Trapp. Between them is a wealth of collegiate experience – both on the court and in the classroom. For GVSU to be successful this year and in the future, these six seniors will need to teach just as well as they play.
And the rest of the team will need to learn.
The remaining five players on the roster are at love-love in the way of experience at the college level. All five are freshmen, giving the Lakers a team dynamic that lends itself to mentorship and, if all goes well, significant growth throughout the year.
“By the time we leave this year, the freshmen have to be ready to be leaders because they’re going to be the old ones next year,” Phillips said. “We have to show them how we carry ourselves.
“All six of us have been together for so long that we’re more than ready to show them what to do.”
All six have each contributed at the college level since their respective rookie seasons. These now-seniors have played together for years at GVSU, and this has created a certain chemistry between them that is apparent within minutes of watching the team interact.
As the 2014 season approaches, the challenge for the Lakers will be to harbor that chemistry while passing it along to the new guard. Just one week into the season, things are going swimmingly for the team as a whole.
“I was worried about how the team was going to mesh and come together, but we’re only a week in and it seems like we’ve been playing together all year,” Black said. “We’re very much a team. Everyone is together and the seniors are doing a great job of helping teach the freshmen about college life and college tennis.”
The team, which lost just two seniors from last year's squad, played its way to a 20-8 record last season and finished with a third-place finish at the 2013 GLIAC Women’s Tennis Tournament. The Lakers then made their 14th consecutive NCAA Division II Tournament appearance, but fell in the first round of the Midwest Regional Tournament to Lewis University.
The Lakers won't have to wait long to open conference play this season, as their first match will be at home against GLIAC foe Michigan Technological University on Sept. 6. It will be the first match in a string of five straight GLIAC contests.
Black expects the Lakers to feature a deep roster this year, and said there is a “good chance” freshmen will be in the starting lineup, likely in doubles flights. While some teams could be perturbed by relying on players with no experience, GVSU welcomes it.
It helps, of course, that these freshmen are talented.
“No one was sure how strong the freshmen were going to be, but I’m really impressed with how they’ve been doing,” Dancz said. “I’m optimistic about them for the season.
"If we can do well in doubles I think we can do anything. I think we can win conference.”
It's a young team, but, at least for now, there are plenty of coaches around to make sure the program will maintain its winning tradition for years to come.