Coming off another trip to the national championships, the U of A tennis team is looking to improve upon their results of the past two years.
The team won the silver medal at the Tennis Canada University and College national championships in mid-August of this year. The tournament’s final, which features both men’s and women’s tennis, was a repeat of the 2011 match-up as the Golden Bears lost again to the now four-time defending national champions from the Université de Montreal Carabins.
“The moment that we knew we got the silver medal again, I have to say, I had an empty feeling in my stomach,” U of A tennis coach Russ Sluchinski said.
“But as the days have gone by, I’ve had a chance to sit back and analyze it a bit more. I think it was a good run because we were able to duplicate our silver medal performance from the previous year, so we didn’t lose any ground in that sense. Even though we didn’t make the jump to the gold, we did make some improvements that we could see from the previous year.”
Improvement from the previous season was evident in convincing victories over top schools like UBC and Western.
The team also came a match closer to beating Montreal while competing for the gold medal. But Montreal had the advantage of being a more experienced team, giving them the edge in the gold medal matchup.
“They’re the team that everyone’s striving to beat, so in the match that was as close as our match was against them, I think that they just have that little bit of an edge because they’ve done it before,” Sluchinski said.
“That’s really the only edge they have right now. I think our teams match up well and I think if we go and play them on any given day, you could get any result, but they are a very good team and they showed it. They’re four-time defending champions, and they’re the team we’ve got in our sights to knock off.”
The feelings amongst the players on the team varied between the veterans who had experienced the same result a year earlier, and younger players.
For first-year players new to the program, to already have a silver medal finish at nationals under their belt only a year into their university varsity sport career is an exceptional accomplishment to begin their stay in CIS.
Those younger athletes may have put the U of A at a disadvantage against Montreal in terms of experience, but they also provide a great deal of hope for the team to continue their success in the future.
“We have a younger core of athletes now, but a lot of them have been top juniors,” third-year U of A tennis player Marco Laschuk said.
“They’re just not used to being put in that situation. A lot of us have played in nationals but tennis is a pretty individual sport. For them to start playing on a team was a little different, especially with the pressure of being in the finals against Montreal, who have a lot of veterans on their team.”
With the team this past year being made up of mostly first and second-year players, the core of the U of A’s team will remain the same heading into the new season this fall.
With short turnaround between the end of last season and the preparation for the new season, the U of A’s tennis team will be put back to the test early. Some of the players will compete in club championships in late September and start official training in October for the season to follow.
“Coming this close is a very strong motivational tool. I know the players worked very hard last year, and based on how close we were the year before, I know they can taste it,” Sluchinski said.
“I know they know that we’re extremely close, so I expect no different from them this year. I expect that they’re going to put in the effort to give us another opportunity to maybe get over that hurdle and win the nationals next year.”
The remnants of chivalry still linger today, especially in the dating world.