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Monday, May 27
The Indiana Daily Student

sports tennis

IU women's tennis ends invitational season at home

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More than two months removed from competitive play, IU Head Coach Ramiro Azcui and the women’s tennis team are set to compete in the Indiana Winter Invitational from Jan. 19-21. 

The annual tournament concludes the program’s long preseason of similar events. Yet with its non-conference schedule starting next weekend, IU is already looking further down the calendar at Big Ten play in March and April.

“We have to be able to prepare for every single match with the mentality that this will help us play in the Big Ten,” Azcui said. “Competition is what we need right now to be able to exploit some of the weaknesses and strengths we have and to be able to work from there.”

Last season, IU started 8-0 behind a strong non-conference showing at home. A 4-7 record in Big Ten play was the team’s downfall, as it finished 17-11 overall. IU’s season ended in the opening round of the conference tournament where it fell to Michigan State 4-2.

Before officially starting their season next weekend, the Hoosiers will share their facility with a handful of quality opponents. This year’s invitational features Azcui’s alma mater Abilene Christian University, Marquette University, Wichita State University and Wright State University. 

While they can still move the lineup around with minimal consequences, the coaching staff looks to use this weekend as an opportunity to use different players in new spots. 

Azcui said he would prefer to know where everyone can fit now rather than midseason when a change has to be made.

“Right now we feel confident where everyone is playing, but the lineup is always going to change,” Azcui said.

This offseason, the team saw senior Xiwei Cai graduate while sophomore Pauline Jahren stepped away from the program, and sophomore Emma Love transferred to DePauw University. 

This season’s roster is down to just eight women. To counter the departure of those three athletes, IU benefits from the addition of freshman Somer Henry, a four-star recruit from Franklin, Tennessee. 

At Brentwood High School, Henry led the Bruins to three state championships while she picked up three individual state titles herself. A basketball, soccer and softball player growing up, she’s able to translate her athleticism to the tennis court.

Though Henry figures to contribute immediately, she doesn’t entirely solve the team’s offseason losses. With increased time at doubles, seniors Madison Appel and Natalie Whalen can attest to the difficulties of dealing with roster turnover.

“She had a partner one year, and then the girl graduated," Whalen said. "And for me, it’s the same way. For us, it’s less about the transition each match and more about the transition each year because the team changes so much.”

As the lone two seniors on the team, Appel and Whalen are attempting to leave a mark on the program before their time is up in Bloomington. Whalen said the team dynamic and leadership was lacking their first two seasons at IU.

“I want all my younger teammates and girls to come to stick to the discipline that we’ve grown over the last two years,” Appel said. “We try to set a good example and I think it’s important that they take away what we want out of it and they take that for their years to come.”

A healthy balance of senior leadership and fresh talent could rejuvenate the team in 2019, and Azcui said he is eager to see how it will perform and grow in the coming weeks.

“We need to see how some players respond to the first match and see how they’re doing this weekend,” Azcui said. “I think we’re most focused on what we’re going to do as a team, as a unit, and how we’re going to represent it.”

The invitational kicks off with doubles play at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the IU Tennis Center.

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