The University of Richmond's men's and women's tennis teams will head to the Atlantic 10 Championships with the hopes of winning automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.
The women finished their season 5-10 and the men's team finished 11-11, its first season with 10-plus wins since 2005-2006.
"Our story is more of a redemptive story," men's head coach Billy Boykin said. "We're moving in the right direction of becoming more and more competitive."
Women's head coach Mark Wesselink said the team was frustrated with some of its results.
Both teams played through injuries involving rotator cuffs and shoulders, muscle pulls, strains, sprains and tendinitis, the coaches said. Wesselink said there had been some odd injuries this season as well. Senior Erin Clark, who plays No. 1 singles, suffered a palm injury.
"I've never, in my coaching career, heard of anyone hurting the palm of their hand," Wesselink said.
With a roster of only seven players, when six are needed for singles, the small, "nagging" injuries plagued the men's team because nearly every player had to play nearly every game, Boykin said.
"Tennis is a grueling season," he said. "Obviously it's not a contact sport, but it's a game of repetition."
The team members are playing all year long, every day and as a result, they occasionally get tendinitis in their elbows, shoulders, wrists and knees, Boykin said.
"When you're playing with tendinitis every day and you have to hit 400,000, 500,000, 600,000 balls [a season] ... that really hurts," Boykin said.
"It gets inflamed and it's hard to make it go away."
The teams focused on improving doubles as well as monitoring injuries during practices, Wesselink said. But injuries have affected the teams in that aspect as well because players were paired in different combinations when others were hurt, he said.
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Senior William Minter had been one of the players who played through injuries this season.
"We didn't necessarily have as many healthy bodies," Minter said. "We only have seven guys who can contribute. So any injury has a huge impact on our lineup."
Freshmen have contributed to the team in a great way, Minter said. No. 1 freshman Sebastien Fauchet had not lost a match since Feb. 28 and had been named the A-10 player of the week twice, Boykin said. No. 2 Jesse Feder had also been named player of the week this season.
Wesselink said junior Kelly Tidwell was the only player on the women's team who had not missed a match because of an injury.
Freshmen Sydney Grant and Alexandra Smyth also showed chemistry during doubles and became bright spots on the team, he said.
Despite the difficulty, the bond between the players remained strong, Wesselink said.
"It's easy to start blaming and second guessing when you have a lot of injuries and you're losing matches," he said. "But they are managing that really well ... which is why I still feel pretty good about the Atlantic 10 tournament, because I just feel like they're still together as a team."
Pride will be on the line for the women's team, which won the A-10 championship last year, Wesselink said. The team works hard, if not harder than any other team in the conference, and they take pride in the level of play they bring to the tournament, he said.
"We're certainly not overconfident," Wesselink said. "But there's a level of pride in our program and when our team goes in there, we're in it to win it. We don't really talk about any alternative."
Boykin said he believed the men would also be a "tough team to tango with."
"I want us to try to play our best tennis," he said. "I want us to fight hard and go in with confidence. We're capable of beating anyone in the tournament."
The men's team will begin its tournament April 16 in Monroeville, Pa. The women will begin April 23 in St. Louis, Mo.
Contact staff writer Kate MacDonnell at firstname.lastname@example.org
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