Getting into the swing of conference play

By The Beacon | April 3, 2014 1:11am
Sophomore Maja Mladenovic who leads the team, has won seven of her nine singles matches and four of her 10 doubles matches this season. Photo by David DiLoreto

By Mitchell Gilbert |

The .500 record the women’s tennis team currently holds may not seem like something to get excited about, but considering the previous seasons and uncertainties that come with a young team, it is a strong jumping off point going into WCC play. The Pilots began this season on a much stronger note than last year, winning four of their first five games with an overall record of 5-5 and an early 1-2 conference record. Last year, they ended the season with an 8-14 record overall and 1-8 in conference games.

This respectable start can help inspire a young team, and head coach Susie Campbell-Gross is confident the team has the energy and fighting spirit to win the WCC championship.

“It has to be from the start of our matches to the end of our matches,” Campbell-Gross said. “It has to be in our preparation the night before, in our on court professionalism during the day, and in our focus during matches.”

Sophomore Maja Mladenovic has been a key contributor to the Pilots’ success this season and she currently leads the team, winning seven of her nine matches. It is not only her on court performance that helps the Pilots win matches. It is her enthusiasm and positive attitude off the court.

“Being very energetic during matches really helps me,” Mladenovic said. “I just try to do my personal best every match, and spread my positive energy to the rest of the team.”

Mental preparation and team unity are important to this team. They spend much of their time focusing on being positive and mentally prepared during their games through their positive performance-training program. This program consists of meetings once a week where they watch YouTube videos or read articles and talk about how they value one another.

“The most important thing is that all of us show up at the same time on the same day,” Campbell-Gross said. “That is what it is going to take as we push to the end of the season. Against Idaho and Gonzaga we were all together, but last weekend we had some inconsistencies.”

The Pilots have had plenty of time to prepare for the tough road ahead of conference games, by playing only three conference games (Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and Pacific) during their first 10 games of the season. With all six of their final games against WCC opponents, it will be crucial to win those if they are to have a shot at the WCC championship.

The Pilots also have to deal with playing in an environment that they are not usually accustomed to: outside. The team usually practices in an indoor facility, so getting outside and playing many of these tough matches in a different environment will present a completely new and difficult challenge. There are many different variables that attribute to this new challenge including the glare from the sun, the wind blowing across the court and the possibility of rain.  Three of the team’s last six matchups, against San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Diego, will be played on outdoor courts.

However, the challenge of playing outside has not affected Mladenovic’s confidence going into the rest of the season. Mladenovic believes that the team has what it takes to push towards the end of the season and has goals set for herself.

“I obviously just want to stay healthy and play my best tennis,” Mladenovic said. “I want to win. I want to be first team all-conference.”

The next home games for the women will be April 4 at 11 a.m. against Loyola Marymount followed by a game April 5 at 11 a.m. against Pepperdine.