UMass enters crucial part of season with matches against Providence, Saint Louis

By Philip Sanzo

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts tennis team is seven games into its spring season, and now enters its most crucial weekend yet as it faces both Providence and Saint Louis.

Coming off a narrow loss to nationally-ranked Dartmouth and then a victory against conference foe Fordham, the Minutewomen are in prime position to assert themselves atop the Atlantic 10.

“The next eight matches are very important, we are right in the thick of it,” said UMass coach Judy Dixon.

The Minutewomen face Providence Friday in a match in which they’re favored over. However, despite facing a non-scholarship program in the Friars, UMass won’t enter at full strength, as Dixon said Aarzoo Malik won’t play due to illness.

Though UMass is heavily favored, Dixon is not taking anything for granted. “We need to play are best, we are missing our number one player. You never know,” she said.

The match against Fordham last weekend marked the first conference date of the season for the Minutewomen. Unlike most collegiate sports, the amount of conference games that the tennis team plays in a season is very limited. The Minutewomen play only four conference matches all season.

While all games should be considered important, there is no doubt that the priority for the Minutewomen this weekend is the game against Saint Louis.

The Billikens are currently 5-2 on the season will take a trip to Amherst to play the Minutewomen Sunday at 12:30. It’s the only time UMass faces Saint Louis this season, and the first time the two teams have played since 2010, when the Minutewomen beat the Billikens in the Atlantic 10 Championship.

But the Minutewomen are not focusing their preparation necessarily on the Billikens. The squad plans to focus more on themselves than on their opponent, much like they have done all season.

“We are trying to work on ourselves and make ourselves better,” Dixon said. “We need to tweak some things like returning serves, and serving smarter.” Dixon added that the team wanted to focus more one being the “aggressor” on the court, a tactic that is risky but could bring high reward.

All season, the depth of tennis team has proved to be one of the biggest if not the biggest strengths.

“Everybody has talent at the top. Not everybody has the depth at the bottom like us,” Dixon said. The Minutewomen are winning games from the bottom up, much like they have done in the past.

All four UMass wins this spring have come at home. It is no coincidence that the Minutewomen seem to play their best tennis when they are in the Pioneer Valley. Currently the team plays it’s home games at Hampshire College’s indoor facility, they will begin playing matches on campus once/if the weather warms up and the snow melts away.

UMass plans to hand out free shirts to the first 20 fans in attendance Sunday.

“We have a good fan base, the team feels supported,” Dixon said.

Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.