The first official day of spring may still be over a month away, but that doesn't mean Sweet Briar College's spring athletics teams aren't hard at work. With a home match on Saturday, the Sweet Briar tennis program kicks off the spring athletics season.
After a short fall season, the Vixens are ready to prove any doubters wrong and put together an impressive spring campaign for the 106th year of Sweet Briar tennis.
"I think we are somewhat under the radar, but if we concentrate on what we are capable of doing, we will be in a good place at the end of the season," said Head Coach Teresa Boylan, now in her ninth season at the helm of SBC tennis. "My expectations for this team are that they have confidence and compete to the best of their abilities, on every point."
Leading the charge this season will be the veteran trio of senior Gina Rutledge, junior AJ Lukanuski, and junior Samantha Yew. Lukanuski proved as a sophomore last year that she was capable of holding down the no. 1 singles spot, where she won seven matches. Rutledge split time at no. 1 with Lukanuski, but primarily played in the second singles spot and won seven matches there, including her last four in a row. Lukanuski and Rutledge also picked up eight doubles victories together, all in the no. 1 spot.
Last year Yew served in a utility role, picking up seven singles victories across courts three, four, and five. Her skills also translated into doubles play, where she and teammate Anna Colvin led the team with ten victories.
"Having these three returners gives the team a solid foundation of strong tennis ability in addition to the leadership that every team benefits from. Their collective experience on the team helps prepare everyone in knowing what to focus on at practice and be versatile in match play," said Boylan of her veteran players.
The first-year group of Alexis Culley, Blake Newton, Lacey Tucker, and Emily Wandling looks set to lead the future of Sweet Briar tennis. Boylan feels that the first-year players are committed to the "team first" culture, something she says in necessary to be successful in the Old Dominion Athletic conference.
"Our first-year players bring an enthusiasm for learning, commitment to improve, and add to the overall "team" attitude. They are adapting well to the collegiate level of tennis, trusting their veteran teammates, and we are looking forward to getting started with match play, which always ups the level of competition at practice," Boylan added.
The four first-year players bring depth to the Sweet Briar tennis roster and join new teammates sophomore Samantha Baker and junior Emma Thom, players that could prove very beneficial as the season progresses. And for the second season in-a-row, Sweet Briar standout soccer players Des'rae Davis and Alicia Wooten will also be found on the tennis courts. The senior duo provided great depth last season in doubles play and Davis won four singles matches as well.
SBC gets its season underway this Saturday, hosting William Peace University beginning at 11 a.m. After their season opener, the Vixens will turn their focus to conference play as two of their next three matches will come against Washington & Lee and Randolph-Macon. Both schools are preseason favorites in the ODAC and ranked in the Oracle/ITA Atlantic South Regional Rankings.
The match against Randolph-Macon begins an entire month away from home as Sweet Briar will only play road matches in the month of March. The second week will be spent in Hilton Head, S.C. for the team's annual spring break trip, where they'll play three matches in four days. Returning from Hilton Head, the Vixens will travel to Ferrum, Roanoke, and Southern Virginia for matches.
April sees Sweet tennis staying closer to campus with home matches against Randolph, Virginia Wesleyan, Guilford, and Lynchburg. The team will also rack up more miles with trips to Hollins, Emory & Henry, and Shenandoah.
Please note that all home matches for the tennis team will be played at Amherst Middle School, located at 165 Gordons Fairgrounds Rd in Amherst.
Check out our Student-Athlete minute with tennis first-year Emily Wandling: