By Dalton Ray —
For the past three years, women’s tennis coach Mark Beckham has been fighting an uphill battle with experience.
When U of L entered the ACC in 2014, Beckham had one senior and was forced to put freshmen and inexperienced freshmen on the court.
Those days are behind Louisville. Of the 10 listed on the roster, five are upperclassmen.
The team’s depth is its strength, with seven proven and experienced players.
“I don’t think I’ve had this many ACC-level players on the team at one time,” Beckham said. “We have some pretty good players who won’t get to play every match.”
Seniors Abbie Pahz and Mariana Humberg lead U of L in 2018, bringing very different styles of play to the table.
Pahz is an ultra-competitive player that Beckham said is one of most competitive players he’s had.
Humberg offers a different playing style that opponents aren’t used to playing against. This not only gives opponents headaches, but benefits her teammates in practice.
“Her slice forehand is like a slice backhand, so it’s good reps for us (in practice),” Pahz said. “For other teams, they don’t know what to do with it and it’s hilarious. I love watching it because it’s so abstract.”
The other senior is Adriana Rodriguez, who has 23 career wins in singles. Doubles may be her strength, as she recorded 14 wins last year and had a 10-3 this fall.
“Where (Rodriguez) started off as a freshman to where she is now — tennis, school, maturing — that’s the reason why I coach. She’s a completely different person and that’s the type of thing that truly makes me excited about coaching,” Beckham said.
Rodriguez’s freshman class included five members, but only two remain. The other is junior Aleksandra Mally, who took a redshirt year because of injury.
Jessie Paul played for three seasons, but won’t be able to finish her career due to injuries. Beckham said he will honor her on senior day.
“Jessie is a big asset on and off the court, she’s a great motivation. It’s going to be hard to not have her on the court, but I know she’ll be there cheering us on,” Pahz said.
Moving down the roster, Beckham’s juniors — Mally and Sena Suswam — are extremely talented players, but have had their string of injuries.1
Sophomore Raven Neely transferred from Northern Illinois after winning MAC Freshman of the year. Neely went 17-5 in dual meets, with 10 wins coming at No. 2 and five at No. 1.
The addition is huge for Beckham, who now adds another skilled player into his lineup.
Fellow sophomore Tiffany Huber posted 20 wins as a freshman. She’s riding her success into her sophomore year, going 9-1 in singles this fall.
Huber’s lone loss? A national ranked player.
“Tiffany had the match in control, but then got physically tired,” Beckham said. “So, that told us we have to get on that conditioning.”
Freshman Maya Smith has won over Beckham with her competitiveness. Her energy and fierce play will make a big impact for U of L.
This fall, sophomore Anna Collins went 3-0 in doubles and freshman Mia Schmidt-Jorgenson went 9-3 in singles. The two have a big learning curve to get major time on the court this season.
In the years past, the team started out hot and were bogged down once they hit ACC play. In 2018, the schedule kicks up the competition early.
Two weeks into the season, U of L takes on Tulsa — a team known for making the NCAA tournament.
When the Cardinals return, they host Notre Dame (other NCAA tournament team) Feb. 9 for an early season test.
“We can get over the hump this year (against Notre Dame) but we have to use the matches before that the right way,” Beckham said.
Louisville has 11 teams on their schedule that made the 2017 NCAA tournament, giving them one of the hardest schedules in the nation.
The Cardinals will be put through the gauntlet at the end of the season, having their final seven games against NCAA tournament teams.
Since entering the ACC, Louisville hasn’t recorded more than three conference wins in a season (5-28 overall).
With more overall talent than they’ve had since entering the conference, expect Louisville to set a record for ACC wins this season.
“Fourteen of the 15 ACC teams will be ranked in the top 75. While the top teams in the league are still very, very good … the rest of the pack is starting to catch up,” Beckham said.
You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal