Sports / The Prairie Fire / September 27, 2017

Culture shift leads to better results

Freshman Bhumika Gupta returns a shot during a practice this week. Gupta, who has held down the number one spot for nearly the entire season, managed to win both her singles match and her doubles match with senior Miranda Corbett. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)

The first Fall Term for new women’s tennis coach Meredith Witherell has proven to be more positive than expected.

“Having a new coach, I was kind of nervous how they were going to respond to me since I didn’t have a lot of experience coaching, but they’re wonderful women,” Witherell said.

Witherell cited the team’s recent strong performances, specifically defeating Monmouth College for consecutive years, as well as taking down Lawrence University for the first time since at least 2011. The team also managed to take matches against conference powerhouse St. Norbert College “for the first time in years,” according to Witherell.

Witherell attributes these successes to the team’s ability to come together, growing a strong bond and sisterhood of sorts. This bond, she believes, shows on the court.

Senior Lauren Sparks has also sensed a new culture and feel on the team this year.

“It’s by statistics alone one of the best seasons we have ever had and then team-wise as well. People are really cohesive,” Sparks said.

Senior Miranda Corbett was happy with the way the team handled the unique circumstances surrounding their matches against Monmouth College.

“It was an intense match having to stop halfway through and with the 48-hour delay we were on a time crunch and so having to stop, especially tied 2-2, we knew three people had to win at least in order to clinch the match. That made those 48 hours very stressful,” Corbett said.

Knox tried to use the delay to their advantage, coming out on Friday with added determination.

“Our teammates really took advantage of the chance to reset and just go out and take control of the match,” Corbett said.

Junior Emily Miller prepares to serve to her opponent during a practice this week. Miller, one of seven upperclassmen on the team, earned a singles win over her Monmouth College opponent. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)

When looking to the remainder of the season, Corbett has clear goals for the team in place.

“My goals are more short term, as in looking forward to the conference tournament in a couple weeks and proving this success we have had isn’t a fluke and beat these teams at conference,” Corbett said.

The topic has come up amongst the team and Witherell that the team’s four seniors, the majority of the team, will be in the midst of senior research in addition to their usual class load come Spring Term.

Senior Anna McDermott, however, looks forward to the challenge that spring represents.

“We’re just gonna go out and give it our 100%. We aren’t expecting to win conference or anything but we’re hoping we will be one position higher than last year,” McDermott said.

The impact of Witherell’s hire is noticeable when speaking to any of her players and seemingly has provided the driving force behind the team’s improved culture.

Junior Maddie Schacht is a fervent believer in the new atmosphere.

“I think this year we’ve been focusing on positivity and we just have a lot of support from [Witherell]. No matter how we do we celebrate at the end, and I think that’s different than what we had in the past,” Schacht said.

The team has enjoyed the strong performance of freshman Bhumika Gupta in the early parts of this season. Gupta has been the team’s number one for most of the year and a strong contributor to their success.

Gupta is quick to credit her teammates with her early successes.

“The team has been really helpful. They included me immediately so I didn’t feel like I was a new person at all despite the team being juniors and seniors,” Gupta said.

Gupta, an international student, is having her first experience playing tennis in the states and has quickly zeroed in on some noticeable differences.

“I used to play national level, but this is the first time I have played here. The coaching part is the same, but here the coach will give a more personal touch while the coaches there are more just thinking tennis. We would practice and they would say ‘play doubles’ and we didn’t know our game, but here the team practices together and we know what our game is,” Gupta said.

The culture of the team is easily identified by players as one of a family. The squad hopes to see this substantial culture shift lead to continued success on the court.

Tyler Price

Tags:  anna mcdermott bhumika gupta emily miller knox tennis lauren sparks maddie schacht meredith wetherell midwest conference miranda corbett Monmouth College Women's Tennis

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