By Jayden Presley, Sports editor
Coach Tanner Stancil and representatives from UM’s men and women tennis teams shared their goals, driven to take matches one at a time for the spring season.
The women’s captain, Emily Hafner, and men’s captain, Philippe Zehender, along with men’s co-captain Sergi Martinez, all say they feel good about the season.
“We had our first conference match last Friday,” said Hafner, referring to their first game against University of West Georgia on Feb. 18. “I think we are going to have a very good season this year. Everyone’s healthy so far, everyone’s playing very good, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Hafner is a junior double majoring in finance and management. She says she leads the women’s team by encouraging them to support each other through every match.
“Our goal is to compete well in every match, fight for every game, for every point, and just compete as a team as much as individuals,” she said.
Zehender, a junior business management major, says winning both double headers against Tuskegee University on Feb. 12 was a solid performance for the men’s team.
“The first test is going to be on Saturday…Everybody is playing on a very good level and I’m looking forward to finally starting the season,” said Zehender about playing Christian Brothers University on Feb. 26.
Stancil has coached college tennis for 10 years. Based on the last two men’s matches, he said they played with focus and intensity through every point.
“On the women’s side, they did a good job competing and fighting hard for each point, especially when they weren’t playing their best. These first few matches are important for getting the jitters out. It takes a few matches and a little bit of a rise in competition to get to mid-season form,” said Stancil.
Zehender said the men’s team goals have changed compared to previous seasons.
“We had a team meeting like two weeks ago and there was one big topic we were talking about. Usually we always had goals like, ‘Okay, we want to be top four in the conference.’ This year, we are not going to do that. We said we just want to win as many games as possible,” said Zehender.
Stancil says he has his expectations as a coach, but he lets his players set their goals. He encourages his players to not focus on results-based goals and walk off the court feeling like they gave their all, whether winning or losing.
“That’s what I’ve been telling them for the last two or three years now is work hard in each game and stop worrying about finishing high, because if you don’t finish in the top four, then you say that season was a failure because we didn’t finish in the top four,” said Stancil.
Martinez is a finance graduate student attending UM for his MBA. He says the team always strives to get better inside the court.
“But outside the court, there are things that people don’t see,” said Martinez. “I think we are kind of a family when we are all together. I’ve been here for five years and now there’s a lot of new freshmen that I didn’t know before.”
Martinez says he and Zehender try to help freshmen feel comfortable on the team and get the best out of them. Remaining a family is most important to both captains.
Stancil and the captains say that both the men and women teams have solid lineups for the singles matches.
“These guys know they have a good team. It just comes down to performing, especially in those tough situations,” said Stancil. “We have the capability where we can switch out, switch in and not lose anything.”
Stancil added that the women’s team relies on the experienced upperclassmen in moments of adversity, and they will be an example to push the younger players to get better.
“The four juniors are consistently in the starting lineup in the singles and doubles. With that amount of experience, they know what to expect from each team that they play, they know what to expect from me and they know how to handle adversity well,” said Stancil.
The captains want both teams to work on doubles matches as the season continues. The men’s team is trying to find connection and confidence, explained Martinez, and Hafner weighed in on how the women’s confidence in doubles matches needed to improve with the younger players.
Stancil says the player at the net will most of the time win points with aggressiveness in doubles matches. The men’s team finished the fall season confident in doubles, so after the holiday break, he says they became content and must “find that fire” again.
Stancil says he is proudest of how the captains hold each other accountable. Zehender says he and Martinez’s main strength as captains is they try to put everyone in a role. Even if teammates are not in the lineup, they still must support the team.
“At the end of the day, it’s the work you put in that goes into the results,” said Hafner. “We have a smaller team than the guys so there’s not that many people watching us when we’re all playing. But we try to support each other.”
Martinez says every player has their own individual routine when mentally preparing for a match. Zehender says even though it is his third year, he still gets nervous playing his teammates since it is important for the lineup.
“The goal before the match starts is just to get as pumped up as possible and get a lot of adrenaline. But everyone is nervous. That is the most important thing for me is how everyone handles being nervous,” said Zehender.
The men’s team won 4-3 on Feb. 26 against Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennesse, but the women’s team lost 3-4. The teams will play at home on March 5 against University of West Florida.