This weekend the University of Richmond women's tennis team will play its first matches of the spring season, following a productive fall semester spent competing in four different tournaments.
The team will travel to Winston-Salem, N.C., to play Wake Forest University at 3 p.m. on Jan. 23 and will remain there to play Dartmouth College at 1 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the neutral site.
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranks Wake Forest No. 42 among all Division I women's tennis teams. Richmond and Dartmouth are unranked.
Senior Pamela Duran, one of the three team captains, said even though both teams were tough, she felt confident about both matches.
"The whole team needs to bring it," Duran said. "It's going to be tough, but possible, to upset them."
Sophomore Kelly Tidwell shared a similar perspective.
"I'm really excited about these two matches," Tidwell said. "We are certainly starting out our season with some very strong competition, but I think by playing a strong team like Wake so early in the season, we have a good chance of catching them off guard and pulling out a win."
Coach Mark Wesselink said that in the past, Wake Forest had been ranked among the top 20 schools in the country.
"The fact that we are on their schedule attests to the strength of our program," Wesselink said. "We expect a very tough match, but we concede nothing. We are playing to win."
Wesselink said Dartmouth would be a competitive match as well.
"A program that flies to Wake for a long weekend of tennis against strong teams is a program that takes their tennis seriously," he said. "We will be tested."
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Looking beyond those two matches, Tidwell said she was optimistic about the season.
"The depth that the freshmen have added is amazing, and we've really worked on our doubles game to give us an extra edge," she said.
After the first tournament, Tidwell said she noticed she was struggling in some areas. She started private lessons with Wesselink, where they worked on staying aggressive, coming up to the net and closing out key points during matches.
"I had a lot more success with this in the [Intercollegiate Tennis Association Regional Championship]," Tidwell said, where she advanced from the single qualifying rounds into the single main draw action.
Wesselink had confidence in the team's strength, saying there was a balance among veterans and talented freshmen.
Competing in fall tournaments strengthened the team as well, Duran said. The team faced a lot of the same teams it will face during this season. After playing them once, she said she had gotten to know her opponents and their weaknesses.
The season runs until the National Collegiate Athletic Association Regionals on May 10. As a senior, Duran said her goal was to finish the season strong, since matches against individual schools require greater mental preparation than tournaments did.
The fall tournaments usually consisted of two single matches and one doubles match per day for three days in a row, Tidwell said.
"We had to be in shape physically and mentally in order to get through those matches," she said. "I'm hoping that this sort of endurance will help us out-compete and outlast our opponents this spring."
Contact reporter Jill Cavaliere at firstname.lastname@example.org
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