Six contests in a span of nine days can either spell a successful season or a recipe for a collapse for a team with not only high self-ambition to win, but high expectations and projections from the surrounding athletic communities.
Now that the ultimate grind of a trip, which saw the Massachusetts tennis team compete against four top-60 ranked programs in seven schools concluded over the weekend, the team remains very much in the hunt for an Atlantic 10 title. The squad was successful Saturday when it defeated Quinnipiac, 6-1 at home, notching four wins in its last five contests.
“After our loss at Yale, I told the girls that this stretch coming up was our most critical point of the season,” UMass coach Judy Dixon said. “This is where we either separate ourselves or collapse and as I thought all year long what we were capable of doing in times of crisis, we stood tall through adversity.”
Doubles play has been a concern for the team all season, with Dixon mixing and matching countless combinations all through the fall, desperately trying to find the right duo of players that, in crunch time, would find a way to lean on each other. As expected, according to Dixon before winter break, set-in-stone pairs were still going to be up in the air come the start of the spring season earlier this month. However, the coach has found a potential solution to maximize her teams’ talent and bring out everyone’s strengths at the same time.
On Saturday, all three doubles pairs for UMass won with ease, proving that the coach’s careful calculations are now starting to pay off. The No. 1 pair of Yuliana Motyl and Chantal Swiszcz defeated the Bobcat’s Rachel Cantor and Adrienne Markison, 8-4.
Dixon described her decision to remove sophomore standout talent Julia Comas from the No. 1 pair as, “an uneasy feeling, but necessary for various reasons.”
“I thought that putting Chantal with Yuliana at the top could give us a different look. Julia’s a great player and has been there for us to lean on all through the fall and this spring when we’ve been making some changes and she’s been great for this team.”
As a freshman, Swiszcz missed all of the spring season, but has come onto the scene this year to give an already deep UMass squad another weapon in the lineup.
“Chantal is a really gifted player and having another player out on the court that can play at any doubles pairing and in the bottom-half of our singles lineup is just really huge to have.”
Senior Candynce Boney continued her rise through the ranks of the UMass program greats, winning both her singles and doubles matches Saturday. Before defeating Quinnipiac’s Sarah Viebrock, 6-0, 6-0 in straight sets, she teamed up with new duo partner Tanisha Hodgson to claim victory in doubles, 8-4.
The Boney/Hodgson pairing was another change that Dixon made before the QU match, saying that, “Hodgson has really worked hard these last few weeks and I wanted to give her a shot to show me that she can be utilized in a different way with a different partner and she really came through for us.”
Comas teamed up with freshman Jessica Podlofsky to claim victory against the Bobcats’ Morgan Crystal and Bethany Huard in No. 3 pairing, 8-2. Podlofsky, who also won her singles match against Lisanne Steinert, 6-0, 6-0 in straight sets, has provided a lift for UMass this spring.
“Jessica comes to practice every day, ready to compete and play hard,” Dixon said. “She’s a real shot in the arm for us and I’m very happy to see that her competitive drive has pushed others on the team in practice. In order to get better, you need to work hard in practice every day, not just some days, but you need a player to exemplify that and Jess does it for us at such a young age.”
The biggest progression from fall performance to now has been the game of highly-touted freshman Motyl.
The freshman came into the fall season battling illness and fatigue, desperately trying to not only find her collegiate game, but just her way onto the court. After a disastrous fall season, Dixon describes Motyl’s development in her game as, “a complete 180-degree turn for the better.”
“The fall was tough for her with adjusting, as well as battling sickness,” Dixon said. “It all kind of caught her at the same time of coming into the program. It’s hard to absorb so much of that as a young player coming into collegiate sports. But I knew how good she was and how even better she could be, so we were all patient with the process. Now, she’s finally putting it all together like we knew she could and it’s given everyone on the team a huge lift to see her at work.”
Motyl’s win against Quinnipiac’s Cantor, 6-3, 6-4 in straight sets was her second singles win in her last three matches, as she continues to find her stride.
With things starting to click on all cylinders for UMass, Dixon believes that the best is yet to come.
“Now that we are starting to find our groove as a whole, things are really shaping up for us to have an interesting finish to our season,” Dixon said. “I firmly believed that, with our talent, we were in contention to be a force for the A-10 title before the loss to Yale. I believe it even more now.”
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.