Top doubles pairing lead GV women's tennis
Sophomores Moccia, Sumner off to blazing start in 2015
GVL / Emily Frye GVSU Women's Tennis vs. Saginaw Valley State University on Sep. 12th
Sophomores Aimee Moccia and Rachel Sumner of Grand Valley State’s women’s tennis team are prepared for anything that’s thrown at them on the tennis court.
But when they’re both asked to describe what qualities make each other great teammates?
“Aimee, when we’re playing together she—”
The two burst into laughter, and Sumner tries to continue. “Let’s see what else. Could you just give me a minute?”
While they had trouble producing an answer to that question, the Lakers have found a stellar answer to one of their biggest questions.
Heading into the season this past August, head coach John Black was tasked with replacing two accomplished seniors - Leah Dancz and Kali Phillips - at the No. 1 doubles seed, where the two racked up a 20-10 record.
Moccia and Sumner, however, have filled that gap admirably. The pair is 4-2 in doubles play, and are leading a team that’s been a surprise frontrunner in the GLIAC at 6-0 on the season.
Luckily for Black, Moccia and Sumner clicked on day one.
“The first time me and Aimee played together back in August, we were playing out doubles points and I just told coach Black after practice that I really liked playing with Aimee,” Sumner said.
The pairing has worked out well due to their corresponding play styles. Moccia excels on the deuce side of the court, which emphasizes forehand shots, while Sumner is better on the advantage side, which requires a good backhand.
“We were going through practice randomly getting paired with people who like to play the opposite side as you. Rachel and I began practicing together, and when we were playing together, our games really complemented each other,” Moccia said. “We work really well together.”
Not only do their play styles complement each other, but the pair says their personalities go hand-in-hand.
“(Sumner) is very positive on the court,” Moccia said. “Say I get down because I miss a ball, she’s always there to pick me back up and tell me I have to keep going. She’s very motivating in that sense.”
“(Moccia) is very intense on the court,” Sumner said. “When she gets down on herself, that makes me want to focus and work harder. You can’t always be positive, because sometimes I get a little bit nonchalant. When she gets just a little bit down, just slightly, it makes me have to pump myself up.”
Last season, Moccia played at the No. 3 seed in doubles with 2014 senior Morgan Patterson. They went 25-7 from that spot, and Moccia says that early experience has helped with her new role this season.
“That I played doubles, I learned so much that it’s really beneficial now playing at the one (seed). I know some of the patterns and things that happen,” she said.
Because Moccia has a year of experience from last year to fall back on, she feels she needs to help her fellow teammate any way she can, especially if focus starts to weaken or they face adversity.
“If Rachel’s having a bad day, I’ve got to give her my positive energy, have to encourage her. If yesterday she missed all those shots, today she can make those shots,” Moccia said. “What we say in tennis is ‘bigger margins, a bigger target.' Don’t go for so much, just do what you can.”
While Moccia played extensively last year, Sumner has had a breakout year after playing sparingly as a freshman, and is undefeated in singles play this year.
“I came from being not in the lineup at all to being in the number one doubles spot, and you play against people who have played from the number one spot for a couple of years. They already know they belong there and they’ve won matches there," Sumner said. "My first match in the doubles spot was really nerve-wracking because I had to convince myself I should be here and I have a chance to win."
The two also play in singles competition. Moccia is 5-1 at the No. 3 seed and Sumner is 6-0 at the No. 5 seed.
While this could be taxing on the body throughout the course of a match, they believe playing in doubles gives them a surge heading into singles play.
“Coming after doubles matches, especially when you win, it gives me so much confidence and gets me ready to go into singles,” Sumner said.
Being matched up together has formed a strong bond between the two.
“You have a special bond with your doubles partner. Like any other teammate, you’re going to be there for them, but on the court you have a connection or a type of energy in doubles. You have to have that connection or it’s not going to work,” Moccia said.
One area the duo has been working on is staying focused throughout a match. They admitted at times they can have lapses in focus if they get ahead or fall behind in a match, but know what they have to do.
“That’s something we definitely need to work on,” Sumner said. "We’ve definitely gotten better at it for sure. We have to keep pushing ourselves and keep the energy up, or the other team will get the momentum.”
Going forward, the duo knows that the No. 1 doubles seed is not an entitlement, but an opportunity. While they want to keep their spot, they’re willing to do whatever is best for the team.
“I would like to continue playing one-doubles, but let’s say in the next couple years it’s more beneficial for us to play in a different spot, then I’m totally up for that. I want my team to win,” Moccia said.
Toward the end of the interview, Moccia ponders the question that was posed to Sumner earlier, and this time she hits the nail on the head.
“We have certain qualities that the other lacks that we can contribute to the other, to make their games better and to make our games together more effective, so we can win,” she said.
“Use that quote!” says Sumner.
As it turns out, the pair are learning more about each other every day.