UMass tennis is reloading, not rebuilding in 2014

By Griffin Carroll

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

 

A year after losing three all-conference players and falling to Virginia Commonwealth in the semi-finals of the Atlantic 10 Championship, Massachusetts women’s tennis coach Judy Dixon remains optimistic about the upcoming season.

“Both coaches are eager to get this going,” Dixon said in reference to herself and assistant coach Juancarlos Nunez. “I think we feel this is one of the best teams we’ve ever had here.”

The 12-person squad will feature six newcomers that are expected to make an immediate impact.

Two transfers, sophomore Brittany Collens and junior Carol Benito, are expected to play prominent roles for the Minutewomen. Collens played a season ago at New Mexico State while Benito played at Tulsa. Freshman Ana Acosta, who is from Las Palmas, Spain will also be relied on as a key contributor.

“We’re young for sure,” Dixon said. “What we think we’ve done is added more depth and I believe we’ve added as much quality as we lost, and maybe a half a step better.”

UMass must replace Sonia Bokhari, Yuliana Motyl and Jessica Podlofsky, as all three graduated last year. Podlofsky owns the program’s record for most singles victories of all-time while Motyl and Bokhari were consistent contributors in both singles and doubles

But Dixon, who is the winningest tennis coach in UMass history, has lofty goals for her team this year.

“Our goal is to win the conference,” said Dixon. “VCU being the pick obviously, they’re the team to beat. We’re headed in a good direction. Our goal is get more attainable as we get better and better.”

The first step in getting better starts this weekend when the Minutewomen head to Providence, Rhode Island to play in the Brown University Invitational. The team is also slated to play in tournaments at West Point, Yale, and Dartmouth before the spring season kicks off in 2015.

“The fall is all about getting them used to the team,” said Dixon. “Fall is reduced pressure, develop the kids, and come back in January ready to go.”

The only team UMass will face in an individual match this fall is Connecticut, who hosts the Minutewomen Oct.9.

Arielle Griffin, a junior, will be the first singles starter. Acosta and Aarzoo Malik will likely compete for the second and third singles spots while Anna Woosley is the favorite to round out the top four. Benito, Collens, and Chanel Glasper plan to compete for the fifth, sixth, and seventh positions.

The doubles lineup is still a work in progress, but Dixon said she knows she has the entire fall season to sort it out. She plans to start with Griffin and Malik as the first doubles pair, Acosta and Benito as the second, and Glasper with Collens as the third.

Isabel Balsavage, Gianna Francis, Michelle Katzelnik, and Julia Larson round out the roster.

Dixon stressed that the starting lineup at the beginning of the season is far from being set in stone.

“I can change the lineup,” Dixon said. “The other team and coaches can’t prepare for us because a lot of teams have set lineups. I don’t have a definite lineup, which makes us better.”

The Minutewomen’s depth will be the strength of their team, regardless of the lineup that Dixon ends up choosing.

“For UMass tennis, it’s a funny kind of a thing,” Dixon said.

“We always play without a star, we’re very good with depth. The match will never come down to our number one, we’re better the deeper we go. We win from the bottom up, not the top down.”

The Minutewomen will get their first crack at live competition at Brown this weekend, and the entire team is itching to get started.

“I’m very well pleased with the effort and intensity in the first two weeks of practice,” said Dixon. “We have a very eager team. I’m looking forward to seeing them compete.”

Griffin Carroll can be reached at [email protected]