By Dalton Ray–
The past two women’s tennis seasons have been rough, with a combined record of 20-34 and a 3-28 record in the ACC. Coach Mark Beckham was forced to throw his underclassmen into action early in their careers. What once was a team filled with young, wide-eyed newcomers is now a band of seasoned veterans.
“They’ve all got experience now. The past seasons haven’t been their fault or their doing, they were just so young. You have to go through stuff in order to be able to win at this level. Now I feel like we have good experience and some new blood, so it’s a good mix. I feel like we’re there in terms of what we need to be successful,” Beckham said.
The team is made up of two seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen. Seniors Olivia Boesing and Elle Stokes have been a part of the team through its ups and downs.
“Olivia is my captain, and I’m not big on naming captains. I’d prefer for people to walk into that role but I gave her that title and she’s been unbelievable,” Beckham said. “When Elle talks, people listen, she’s been here and been through a lot. Their freshman year, we were in the national rankings, competing for a national championship and they want to get back to that for their senior year.”
Boesing and Stokes have a combined 47 career wins in singles. Beckham said Boesing has come out of her shell as a person and player over her time as a Cardinal.
“She speaks to me more now, if something is going on, she doesn’t hesitate to come talk to me. As time has gone on, she has seen herself evolve into the role of people are looking up to her. Olivia has really developed a voice, she doesn’t hold back and speaks her mind. That wouldn’t of happened her first couple years here,” Beckham said.
Another pair of key players for this team is Jessie Paul and Ariana Rodriguez. With 24 career wins, the junior duo has faced some of the nation’s toughest opponents in their first two seasons. Beckham said he has seen growth in all of his players, but one that stands out through work ethic is Abbie Pahz.
“(Pahz) is what coaches call a gym rat. That’s a big deal for me and the team. Those type of people are hard to find and she’s really into her tennis. I’m always pleased with her when it comes to her commitment to the game,” Beckham said.
Beckham said freshman Tiffany Huber shares a similar work ethic.
The Cardinals had a successful fall semester, according to Beckham.
“We won more singles and doubles than when have the time I’ve been with the women. We won two singles tournaments and two doubles tournaments,” Beckham said. “The last event we had was here and we didn’t lose a doubles match at all, and that’s never happened while I’ve been here.”
Beckham mentioned the doubles teams of Paul and Rodriguez, Boesing and Sena Suswan and Pahz and Mariana Humberg performed well in the fall. Humberg is a new addition to the team, transferring from Winthrop.
“She’s a good fit for the team. Her game style is completely different, which makes her very difficult to play. She’s going to help us out quite a bit in singles and doubles,” Beckham said.
Suswan received a lot of playing time last year and started the year off strong. Beckham said developing consistency is the new step in her game.
“(Suswan) is a wildcard. She can be lights out and very special,” Beckham said. “Sena has to understand that sometimes less is more. She has to learn when to be explosive. It’s a matter of managing a match. She has shown that she can beat elite level players, but she’s also shown she can lose to players she shouldn’t be losing to.”
Even though Louisville plays in one of the nation, Beckham didn’t create a lofty non-conference schedule.
“I made this schedule knowing that we should have a pretty good team. The matches outside of conference will progress us very nicely into the ACC. Georgia State is a very good team, nationally ranked and played in the NCAA tournament. Marshall is going to be a test for us, playing them at their place will be tough. This season is tougher than the two years before, but we’re experienced now. They’re ready,” Beckham said.
Beckham has his goal for the team already: making the NCAA tournament.
“If you can get four to six wins in the ACC, you’re a top 25 or 35 team. So if we get those wins, plus handling our non-conference, I think we can make a case for the NCAA tournament,” Beckham said.
Beckham said what makes the ACC so good is the tradition. Now that U of L is entering their third season with the conference, his team is no longer affected by the names.
“A lot of these teams have been good for 30, 40 years. The programs are so established. The tradition in this conference is just so thick, there are just really good programs. These ACC games are just another match to us now. In the beginning, it was hard not to be. Now, we can just look at them as regular matches,” Beckham said.
Learning how to win could be an issue for this team, but Beckham isn’t afraid of the challenge.
“What we’ve experienced isn’t the norm. It’s not what I’m about, it’s not what we do here. We need the thought process of, ‘All we do is win.’ We go out and beat good teams, that’s what we do. It’s not a big deal,” Beckham said. “A lot of people have worked hard to get the program to a certain level. We win here. You can’t use last season to label us because that’s not who we are.”
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal