The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Matadors women’s tennis adds depth, has high hopes for the season

Edward Segal
CSUN women’s tennis huddles and says their pre-game chant as they get ready for day one of the CSUN Fall Invitational at the Matador Tennis Complex Nov. 10 in Northridge, Calif.

Not often does a team at any level manage to keep every player on its roster heading into the following season.

CSUN women’s tennis overcame the odds and kept all 12 players from their 2022-23 roster on the team this year, making them the only Matadors team to do so. This young team had five freshmen on the roster last year, with only one senior and one graduate student. Graduate student Jolene Coetzee obtained her master’s, but decided to stick around as a graduate assistant coach, while senior Sasha Turchak stayed at CSUN to pursue her master’s in real estate.

Coetzee is now mentoring the young roster, and Turchak, who is one of the team’s best players, was moved up to court number one.

The team also added three players to the roster. The newcomers are freshmen Elena Goodman and Sydney Wilson, as well as Santa Monica College transfer Nicole West.

The 14-player roster took its talents to the CSUN Fall Invitational this weekend, a three-day preseason tournament featuring 10 universities. The Matadors notched 26 wins in the event, with 20 of those coming in singles play and the other six coming in doubles.

The Matadors played their best last Sunday, the final day of the tournament, when Turchak finally broke through.

Turchak was on court one throughout the event, but couldn’t gain a victory until Sunday, as she struggled under the spotlight. Her day one opponent from Portland University, senior Iva Zelic, threw her off balance, but she kept it close despite losing in three sets.

“That match was definitely really hard,” Turchak said. “I felt like [Zelic] was using an intimidation tactic, which, usually I can deal with pretty well, but I felt like she was getting under my skin.”

Turchak finally won in singles on day three, when the team took on Youngstown State. She defeated her opponent in two sets. She and her doubles partner, Yuliia Zhytelna, won their match against Pacific, 6-0.

Turchak said she needs to not let the pressure of playing higher in the lineup get to her.

“Before, if I’m, like, lower in the lineup, there’s a bit more expectation to maybe win, or sometimes I would have easier matches,” Turchak said. “From playing one and going onward, there’s never going to be an easy match. I just need to change my mindset on that and prepare for every match the best that I can.”

Head coach Gary Victor believes Turchak can lead the way as one of the veterans of this group.

“Sasha’s a leader in so many ways. Talk about irreplaceable, that kind of person for us,” Victor said. “She’s just that special.”

Turchak’s doubles partner, Zhytelna, is another veteran of the group who is poised to have a big impact on the team this year. The redshirt junior went 15-5 in singles last year, leading the way for the Matadors with her energy on and off the court.

Another player poised to have a big role is sophomore Angela Ho. Last year, Ho paired with Coetzee in doubles play and went 12-5 for the best record of any Matador pairing. In singles, Ho posted a 14-6 record, good for second among all the Matadors.

One of the reasons Ho thinks she worked well with Coetzee last season is because they are able to play off each other on the court, while also lightening the mood to take some of the pressure off in tough situations.

“Having her there, I feel like she knows me best because I was playing doubles with her for, like, the whole year last year,” Ho said. “I really enjoy having her on the court.”

Ho struggled controlling the tempo of her singles match on Sunday. She prides herself on her signature backhand, but is nursing a sprained left hand which took that weapon out of her arsenal. She said the injury allowed her to work on her forehand, so she doesn’t have to rely on her backhand as much in the future.

Because Coetzee is now a coach, Ho needs a new doubles partner. The Matadors’ three additions to the group give them options to choose from.

Ho prefers playing close to the net, so an ideal partner for her would be someone who can hold the fort down in the back, and who can come through in times when Ho might be struggling.

“I like someone who is sort of consistent from the baseline, letting me do my thing at the net and who is just supportive too so I don’t feel like I have to do everything,” Ho said.

Victor experimented by putting the quick and agile West with Ho in their doubles matches last weekend. The duo defeated a pairing from Portland, 6-4, on day two of the tournament, and beat a duo from Pacific, 7-5, on day three. Victor also said he was thinking of pairing Ho with Goodman, once the latter is eligible to play in January.

Victor watched Goodman play tennis growing up, and had high praise for her work ethic as she overcame an ACL tear that cost her three seasons of her career. He called her “confident yet humble,” and says she has tremendous potential as part of the team.

“Elena is going to be a key part of this team and I think everybody knows that,” Victor said. “She’s just so positive and hard-working. She has an incredibly strong mindset and so her teammates love her… You’re not going to find a better person.”

Wilson also didn’t play this weekend, but as someone who won an individual district title at her high school in Virginia, she brings experience playing at a high level.

At last year’s fall invitational, the Matadors won 38 of 52 matches, with everyone playing the first two days and Jacquelline O’Neill getting hurt and missing the last day of action.

This year, a few players missed some action, so there were fewer matches. The Matadors won 26 of them.

The Matadors went 17-7 last spring, good for the best record in the Big West. However, their 6-3 conference record left them tied with four other teams for second, behind Hawaii. The Matadors also lost only one match at home last season.

An advantage they have now is that Coetzee, who was one of the best doubles players on the team, is now one of their coaches. As someone who played with most of these athletes, she can help bridge a gap between the players and staff.

“Helping the players when they’re on the court is very easy for me because I used to be in the same spot, so I kind of know what I needed on the court,” Coetzee said. “I try to tailor myself towards the player, because I was a different player who wanted a different coaching style, so I ask them usually what they like, and I try to do that for them.”

Many players expressed that they like to keep the mood light when they play. Victor says that because tennis is such a mental sport, it helps to keep the bar from appearing very high so the players can focus.

“We’re trying to get away from expectations. We want to focus on what we can control,” Victor said. “If they can work on the things they can control, that’s it. That’s the main thing.”

Victor said he is trying not to raise his expectations for the group this season, but the chemistry they have developed with each other both on and off the court after being together for over a year makes them special in Victor’s eyes.

“This is 27 years,” Victor said, referring to how long he has been at the helm. “There’s not a better group that I’ve ever had.”

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