Daily Sundial file photo
Despite the women’s tennis team not having their usual preseason in the fall to condition and to check out the competition, the team is prepared to take on the Big West. Their first official match after a shortened season in 2020 will be at CSUN on Tuesday against Cal Lutheran.
The team and staff were disappointed when Big West announced it’s cancellation of all conference and non-conference competitions on March 13, 2020. The Matadors had an “outstanding start last year” according to head coach Gary Victor, who watched the team achieve a 6-2 overall record.
“Our talent level is even deeper than last year,” Victor said. “Our attention is equally divided amongst ten players.”
The ten starters include six returning players, two new transfers and two freshmen. Among the returning players are senior Ekatarina Repina (6-1) and junior Jolene Coetzee (5-2) who led the team in victories last season. Also returning are juniors Jacquie Tan and Ana Isabel Fraile Toboso, as well as sophomores Kailen Galazka and Victoria Santibañez Luna.
“We all have that same excitement about coming back after one year of not playing. It’s going to be even more competitive this time,” Santibañez Luna said.
[RELATED: Ekaterina Repina journey to CSUN: All for the love of Tennis]
Yuliia Zhytelna and Magdalena Hedrzak are the freshman players joining the 2021 lineup. Sonoma State transfer Alexandra Turchak and Sacramento State transfer Jenna Dorian were the last to join due to delays and complications related to COVID-19 guidelines.
“There were a lot of coaches writing back saying we’re just not taking anybody at all because of COVID, we just don’t know what’s going on,” Turchak said.“It’s definitely a step up for me and my game. I already feel like I’m getting better.”
As a graduating senior, Dorian hopes to win big for the Matadors in her final season with the team.
“I knew that I wanted to come to CSUN. It was a process but it all worked out in the end,” Dorian said. “I just want to do as good as I can for the team this semester because it could possibly be the last semester that I play for them. I want to get that point every time for them if I am in that lineup.”
Bonding and conditioning as a new team had its challenges at first due to California’s strict guidelines. Zoom calls with coaches, a communicative group chat and shared passion for the sport kept the players motivated through the uncertainty of returning to the courts in 2021.
“When we talk about our goals and our passion even through Zoom, I think it helps a lot, just mentally to get through the pandemic. I think it’s very important because when we bond really well with each other, then we have more encouragement,” Repina said. “When someone enjoys playing, they play a lot better. If I play with someone that I enjoy, I’m going to play at my higher level.”
Coaching staff provided the team with optional at-home workouts and conditioning programs to practice individually during lockdown, allowing each player to choose according to restrictions in their home countries and counties.
“The coaches are so understanding so they never forced us to practice. They would make these programs depending on our conditions that we had available,” Santibañez Luna said.
CSUN officially returned to practice in person after Big West announced the return of women’s tennis in mid-January — an announcement that shocked the players.
“I didn’t expect that we were going to be able to come back after the first semester and how we were in complete lockdown,” Dorian said.
The team has been trying to stay safe on the courts by wearing masks, except during matches, and keeping the team as socially distanced as possible.
“It’s very sensitive if somebody gets sick, it’s going to jeopardize the entire team. So I think safety is definitely first,” Coetzee said.
Practicing six days a week for three to four weeks now has also been challenging for the staff, as far as identifying strengths in the team and pairing teammates for doubles.
“It’s a pretty big challenge for us to get done in a hurry,” Victor said.
These unique circumstances haven’t affected the team’s desire to take it all in the Big West. If anything, the unprecedented long break from competition has given the team more of a reason to prepare quickly.
“It’s kind of weird because usually fall is preseason and you get a whole semester to train, improve and see what the coaches see,” Turchak said. “Everyone was making sure they were ready if there was going to be a season.”
The team’s confidence in their ability to win the Big West Conference lies in their matchup against conference front-runner University of Hawai’i, who they will face in an away game on March 14.
The winner of the last complete Big West tournament, Long Beach State, opted out of the 2021 women’s tennis season. Long Beach defeated Hawai’i 4-3 in the 2019 championship match, dethroning the reigning champs.
“I feel like our team can do this because we are very passionate and we have a lot of great players this year. It’s really doable,” Repina said.
The Matadors did not get a chance to play against Hawai’i last year. For Coetzee, the rematch has been long awaited since her last encounter with the team led to an upsetting 3-4 loss.
“Both sides were cramping, I was basically full body cramping the entire thing,” Coetzee said about the four hour long match during her freshman year.
The team’s belief in themselves and each other is clearly reflected in their drive to win the 2021 championship. Whether they bring the trophy to CSUN or not, the team is just grateful to be able to compete again.
“One of our goals is to love the process. You don’t know how much you miss something until you lose it,” said Victor.