A Fresh Start

  • By Tiffany Doolittle
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  • March 10, 2011 01:44 PM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Every Division I team goes through a time when the team doesn’t feel right, or play to its fullest potential. The West Virginia University tennis team has been feeling that way for most of this season, but that’s all about to change.

With a new set of coaches, a tougher schedule and a rearranged lineup, the Mountaineers had a lot to take in at the start of the 2010-11 season.

Sophomore Emily Mathis has played a large role in the team’s transition and feels that these changes have had a positive impact on herself and her team.

“I’ve been a lot more confident this year and I’ve been playing better because of it,” said the Flower Mound, Texas, native. “I’m running faster, my fitness has improved and I’m better nutritionally, so it’s just been an all-around improvement. I’m forcing myself to improve in all areas.”

Head coach Tina Samara and assistant coach Brian Sullivan arrived in the fall of 2010 and noticed some significant changes needed to be made in the tennis program, including more BIG EAST opponents, tougher practices and conditioning, and getting the team to have a better overall attitude.

“When we got our new coaches, they had higher expectations for us than in the past,” Mathis admitted. “For while, we didn’t do anything about it and we just expected to win. Now that we’re all putting in the extra effort, we’re seeing a change.”

Samara started to shape the new program by making half of the schedule against BIG EAST opponents, while the rest was filled with several high-ranking or strong Division-II teams.

“I think Tina and Brian have opened our eyes to the fact that we’re capable of competing at the next level,” said Mathis. “They’ve also made us realize that mediocrity isn’t good enough. We have to do things out of our comfort zone, and even though we might not be good at them at first, it’s going to help us in the long run.”

The Mountaineers have started the season slow, holding a 3-7 overall record and a BIG EAST record of 1-2. The frustration built with every match but what’s expected and needed by each member of the team is finally beginning to sink in.

“Our team has always wanted to win, but we didn’t have the right attitude or confidence that we needed to win,” Mathis acknowledged. “Practice is way more intense this year and everyone is seeing each other working harder, so it’s inspiring the whole team to work just as hard. I think we’re finally pushing each other and getting that attitude we need to win.”

In 2010, Mathis finished her first year as a Mountaineer with 23 overall wins. She contributed in the No. 3-5 singles spot, finishing 12-11 while holding an 11-13 doubles record with partner Veronica Cardenas in the No. 2 spot.

The right-handed hitter has been playing in the No. 2 singles and doubles spots this year and is comfortable stepping up and taking on those tougher opponents. Her new training and attitude have given her the confidence she needs to compete well, and the rest of her teammates feel the same way in their respective spots.

“We just recently have figured out a better lineup, and we all know we’re capable of doing well with the positions we’re in,” Mathis said. “Having a solid lineup is going to help us win more matches this season and at the tournament.”

The Mountaineers began to feel a positive change during their week off after a shutout loss to BIG EAST foe Syracuse. It gave them time to regroup and make some changes, which the coaches and the team noticed in their 5-2 victory over Duquesne on Wednesday.

“It’s all starting to come together and our coaches are really starting to believe in us,” she added. “We realize that we’re not going to win doing things the way we used to.”

With 11 matches remaining, seven of which are against BIG EAST opponents, the Mountaineers still have time to change the direction their season is heading.

“We could’ve easily given up by now and thought negatively after losing seven matches, but it’s the complete opposite,” Mathis said confidently. “Getting over this hump has only made us more determined to step it up and make this season better.

“We still have the heart to want to win, and hopefully it’s going to start happening.”


Emily Mathias, Women's Tennis