Six matches into the 2018 spring season, the Tennessee women’s tennis team is undefeated, posting a 4-0 home record and a 2-0 away mark. And the final scores haven’t been close.
Tennessee has shut out three of its six opponents, expanding on an impressive 2016-2017 campaign that saw the Lady Vols notch a 19-12 record, including a 12-5 slate while competing in Knoxville.
A large part of that success is due to Alison Ojeda.
Ojeda is in her second season as the head coach of the Lady Vols, having taken the helm of a program that she once played for collegiately. While in college, she was named an All-American in singles and twice honored as All-SEC.
And the program, along with the expectations of the players within it, has evolved with her manning the lead.
“(We want) more consistency with those expectations (in the program),” Ojeda said. “The expectations that I had last year, those were all things that we can all achieve on a daily basis in practice. Exact same expectations this year, but the good news (is that) you have a year under your belt.
“That culture shifts to a little bit more of what we want to see on a daily basis. So now all of a sudden those expectations stay the same, because they don’t have anything to do with winning and losing. It’s got everything to do with preparation and how we come out from a consistency standpoint.”
Ojeda followed her playing career with stints as an assistant coach at Tennessee, Baylor, Middle Tennessee, Texas A&M and Alabama. She was hired for the head job by Tennessee in November 2016 following the resignation of former coach Mike Patrick, returning to a school that she had felt passionate for since before her days on the roster even began.
“It's amazing to come back,” Ojeda said when hired by Tennessee. “I've loved Tennessee since I was a recruit back in 1998. The opportunity to come back and walk on this campus every day and live in Big Orange Country is just amazing. In 1998, I was in Pat Summitt's locker room, and a recruit asked her why she should come to Tennessee.
“Pat's eyes got huge, and she said, 'Why wouldn't you come to Tennessee? This is the greatest place in the country. The only reason you wouldn't want to come here is if you didn't want to be the best.' From that moment on, I have absolutely lived and breathed Tennessee. It's a fantastic honor to be back here.”
Ojeda’s success even allotted her a new contract from former athletic director John Currie in 2017, giving her a base salary of $141,000, with terms similar to those of Chris Woodruff, the head coach of the Tennessee men’s tennis team.
The Lady Vols still have to face the majority of their spring season schedule before hosting the SEC Tournament in Knoxville at Barksdale Stadium. With Ojeda still in the early stages of her head coaching career, her development as a leader of the team is still ongoing.
But that is understood by her players as they continue on the journey with her.
“Last year, (Ojeda) was in a different position coming in as the head coach,” redshirt freshman Gabby Schuck said. “This year, we’ve got a ton of talent, but everyone works hard. We can all see that, and we know if we just bring the energy and are positive ... we can do some really good things.
“So it’s not a pressure thing. It’s more of like an excitement from us. We’ll talk about it, but it’s more of ‘Hey, we just focus on what we can control and do what we can do.’”