Tennis focuses on team strength

It’s a new era for the tennis team at Virginia Wesleyan, categorized by young players on both the men’s and women’s teams. The women’s team has five first-years and only four upperclassmen. The men’s team has 17 men, six of whom are first-years. 

Leading the teams is Director of Men’s and Women’s Tennis Toni Bickford, who is entering her third season as head coach. With both teams, she is trying to form a culture she likes, but it looks different for each team. 

For the women, she’s almost starting from scratch. After graduating three seniors last season, Bickford is leaning on her first-years more than she normally would.

“We focused on kind of building a team culture for the freshman because they’re stepping up in very big shoes,” Bickford said. 

Team environment is something the women’s team has struggled with in the past and they wanted to make it a priority this season and in seasons to come. 

Bickford and her team are also prioritizing making sure they are in the right mindset, especially coming off a tough match loss. “We just try to focus on the little improvements every day,” Bickford said.

For the men, their season started with a 0-9 loss against Christopher Newport University. Senior Stefan Zrnic echoed similar words to Bickford. “After most matches, we’ll meet and talk about what we liked and didn’t like and stuff we could have done better,” Zrnic said. 

First-year Ole Behrmann played #2 Singles against Chowan University on Feb. 29 and won 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Josh Pagett|Marlin Chronicle

The men’s strategy seems to be working. They continued their spring season with a record of 4-2, as of March 3, with wins over Piedmont University, Pfeiffer University, Goucher College and Division II Chowan University. The women’s team, although their spring season started later than the men’s, started on a high note. Despite losing to Chowan 3-6, they turned around and beat Elizabeth City State University 7-0. 

Bickford preaches to her players the importance of being 1% better every day, whether that be in tennis, school or their personal life, but especially mentally.

Similarly, senior Shannon Lewes stated that a post-match group meeting was crucial. “In the fall, we played Washington and Lee and we really got destroyed. Coach Toni had us go around and talk about one thing we did well and something we had to work on,” Lewes said. 

Unlike other collegiate sports, Men’s and Women’s Tennis plays during the fall and spring seasons. The spring season is where it really matters; it’s where they play conference teams and when the conference and NCAA tournament occurs. Lewis and Zrnic like having a fall season. Zrnic said the extra playing time is beneficial “just to keep up playing tennis consistently so that we don’t come into the season so flat in the spring.”

The fall is also a good time to learn how to play with new people. “It gives us the opportunity to get a few matches in and shake off some rust and kind of evaluate what we need to work on and what we need to focus on,” Lewes said. She also remarked on how exciting it is to play doubles with new people. “I have a freshman doubles partner which is exciting, I’m happy about that,” Lewes said. 

The men’s team will split their squad for their two matches both on March 16, one team will play United States Merchant Marine Academy at home and the other half will play at North Carolina Wesleyan College. The women play again on Monday, March 18 against Centre College. 

By: Colette Kearney