On Sept. 25th Tennessee’s Women’s tennis announced its 2020 fall schedule. In accordance with SEC rules, the Lady Vols will play SEC schools that are in close geographic proximity.
Before their spring schedule got cut short due to COVID-19 the Lady Vols were 10-3 with a 1-2 record in conference and were starting to hit their stride.
“I thought we were moving along in the right direction, it’s wild how even though it was multiple months ago it feels like yesterday just because we had a huge turnaround,” head coach Alison Ojeda said. “We played Mississippi State and Ole Miss on the road, we had a heartbreaking loss against Mississippi State and the team had a really good two-hour chit chat on the way to Ole Miss and then we went out and came from behind to beat Ole Miss. So I think we had actually turned a pretty big corner with the team and then things end and here we are.”
When the Lady Vols take the court on Oct. 10th in Nashville for the Music City Scrabble against Auburn, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt it will be their first competition in 216 days with most of their time in between being spent quarantine. Coach Ojeda believes her team has handled the time off well and used it to better themselves and stay ready for whenever they were going to take the court again.
“The team has done an incredible job of handling it,” Ojeda said.“I think these younger college-aged students are just resilient. I mean they’re always gonna try to find a way to do what they want to do but with that said during this pandemic it actually worked to their advantage. I think they’re good, I think some of our kids have gotten better during this time and some of our kids’ bodies have been able to heal up.”
“The sports of tennis are year-round. I am 40 years old and this is the longest I’ve been off the tennis court since I was eight and it’s been the same for my team. It just gives you a chance to mentally and emotionally recover, analyze and regroup and start over," Ojeda said. "I think we’ll start over in a place that, in my opinion, is a little higher than when we left off because mentally we can't wait to get on the court and compete.”
Lady Vols tennis will host Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt from Oct. 16-18 for the UT Fall Invite before closing out the season with a return trip to Nashville on Oct. 30 for the three-day June Stewart Invitational. The Invitational will include Auburn, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, along with the Lady Vols.
National powerhouses like Georgia and Vanderbilt will test the Lady Vols. However, coach Ojeda believes her team will step up and rise to the occasion.
“I think Carly Briggs is playing outstanding tennis right now and we’ve only been on the court a few weeks,” Ojeda said. “She’s someone who really took advantage of the months of March to August when we got back here. She lives in the state of Georgia so she was lucky they were competing and she was able to compete in a safe way and it shows because she is a little bit ahead of the pack right now.”
“Rebeka Mertena, who is already a really good tennis player, but she’s also stepping up her intensity every day in practice. We’ve added a couple of new players to the team. We got Daria who transferred in from Pepperdine and she already brings a wealth of knowledge and won in Poland, she’s just good and on top of that she’s already stepping up vocally with the team in workouts and practice. Once we get to competition we’ll figure it out but in terms of stepping up on the tennis court I think everyone on our team will be playing at a higher level than they have been.”
A strong schedule in a condensed amount of time like this will require good leadership and a solid bond in the team on and off the court. The Lady Vols will hope to find that perfect chemistry as they go through the season.
“The way our team is aligned right now. We’ve got Johanna Silva who is now a fifth-year who is meant to be done with her eligibility, but because of last season, she has another year and she really did a fantastic job in terms of where she’s at with her tennis compared to where she came from and just from an overall maturity standpoint,” Ojeda said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Johanna steps up. We have Tenika McGiffin who is a junior, we have Rebeka Mertena who is a sophomore and Kylie Duckworth who is a sophomore. Everyone else is a freshman, Daria is a sophomore but it’s her first year here. I wish I could tell you the answer but the good news is we are gonna go out and compete and sort through it.”