The North Central Women’s Tennis Team had high expectations for their first fall season in two years. After winning a rescheduled CCIW tournament in the spring following an 8-0 conference record, they set the bar high for this regularly-scheduled fall slate.
Sydney Sawyer: “For the fall? To do as well as we did in the spring, have a repeat season… Just have a strong and consistent fall, match what we did last year, and then get ready for the 8Q tournament in the spring.”
Not only did they again go undefeated and win another conference title, they did so by losing only four individual matches in conference play and also winning all six of their non-conference contests.
For all the success, being back to normal wasn’t as easy as the team made it look.
SS: This is the first time I’ve ever experienced playing a fall season, but I like it; get the ball rolling, I transferred from a school where it was just a full spring season so it’s been nice to just get the competition out of the way.”
Alaina Kanthaphixay: “Tiring, tiring I’m not gonna lie. I usually work out, I don’t run a lot so running back and forth is getting me out of breath but it’s fine.”
Ryan Jump: “I think it’s been harder than I thought it was going to be. Obviously the workload stays consistent but going through this post-COVID life of mental health, strenuous going back in to schedules of work life and social life it’s been tough for everybody. We take it day-by-day, match-by-match, practice-by-practice. We’ve got 15 girls and there’s been incredible buy-in. It’s been different, it’s been challenging but at the same time it’s rewarding to get back to normal.”
SS: “I actually think the pandemic might have helped in that situation because we weren’t all-in in matches last year, especially because we got our fall canceled last year, we did a lot in terms of team bonding so I think as a team we developed this really strong unit and strong bond. We’re all friends, we all are with each other as much as we can be.”
And it’s that team unity, much more than any of their individual abilities, that the team believes truly sets them apart from the competition.
AK: “…we don’t have any beef or anything … we like each other, and I feel like it’s hard for teams to have that because sometimes they’re like “I don’t like her, or I don’t like her” but it’s not like that here.”
RJ: it’s really important because there’s going to be days where I’m going to have to ask someone to sit so we can get someone else some playing time. In years past I don’t know if we could have gotten away with that as we do this year. It’s a buy-in and everyone knows what our goals are, and it’s not just a hope we get there it’s an expect we get there in everything that we do, having everyone buy into that has been crucial to everyone getting along and the opportunities everyone’s been getting out there.”
SS: I truly believe we’re a team that gets along with each other, we all like each other. I know that’s common, they might have some internal conflict but that’s not really something we struggle with so we’re able to really just focus on what we need to do in the moment, create goals, and achieve those goals together.”
There has been no shortage of recognition for all this team achieved over the past few months. Ryan Jump was named CCIW coach of the year and senior Keali Smashey CCIW Player of the Year. In addition to Smashey, Kanthaphixay, Natalie Bassett and Hannah Hougland all aslo received All-Conference Honors.
“…The relationships we have with them, watching them grow up, has been the most rewarding. Obviously you can look at the wins and losses and championships and rings and all that fun stuff but the relationships have probably been the best part….”
Now the team will get some much deserved time off from matches before a spring schedule that will include hosting the CCIW’s Automatic Qualifying Tournament for the NCAA championships. But a lack of matches doesn’t mean a lack of work.
“I know all of us are determined, we’re not lazy. We have our own things. Offseason we will have our time to go work out, our time to hit with each other…none of us are only going to do school and do nothing athletic related.”
But for now, they can savor the moment where they did something that’s never been done before: win two conference titles in the same year.