Lady Blugolds five for five in Florida

Story by Ashley Hofer

After competing indoors for months, the UW-Eau Claire women’s tennis team finally got to play tennis outside last week. And they couldn’t have picked a better place to return to the outdoor courts.

The lady Blugolds traveled to Orlando, Fla. over spring break, where they played in five matches – and were victorious in all of them. The wins allow the team to remain undefeated in 2010 and improve to 15-3 overall.

“It was a lot of fun,” senior Erin Welch said. “It was nice to go down and play people where we don’t know how they play and adjust to them, adjust our game.”

“It was a great trip,” assistant coach Amanda Zenner said, adding that three of the five wins were great regional wins.

“We also had the opportunity to play schools we don’t normally have the opportunity to play. It was a good challenge.”

The Blugolds started their six-day Florida trip with a match against C.W. Post (N.Y.) The team won 9-0, showing a hint of the success that would follow during the remaining Florida matches.

Over the next few days, the Blugolds picked up wins in each of their four matches. They were:

 A 7-2 victory over Edgewood College (Wis.).

 A 9-0 win against Hamline University (Minn.).

 A come-from-behind 6-3 win versus St. Mary’s University (Minn.).

 A 5-2 match against the University of West Alabama (Ala.), a Division II school.

Welch, Zenner and head coach Craig Monson, who was unable to travel with the team due to work commitments, all pointed to the match against St. Mary’s as one of the most exciting of the trip. In doubles competition, the Blugolds got down early. No. 2 pair senior Brenna McCormick and Welch won their match 8-0, but the Blugolds lost in the No. 1 and No. 3 slots, resulting in the Blugolds trailing the Cardinals.

But the efforts of the singles players ultimately pushed Eau Claire back in front of St. Mary’s to win the meet. The Blugolds secured five wins – all but the No. 1 spot – against the Cardinals to pick up the 6-3 win.

Welch said that because St. Mary’s is in the same region, the win was an important one.

“It’s good to beat people in our region, so when the rankings come out we will be ranked higher,” she said.

Another big win for the Blugolds was against West Alabama. The Tigers are a Division II team, and Monson said there are traditionally strong tennis programs in the South.

While Monson said he was impressed with how the freshmen have grown by “leaps and bounds,” Zenner said it was the play of the seniors that caught her eye.

“I have to give them credit for playing exceptionally,” she said. “I specifically remember saying, ‘Wow, I’m impressed.’ They played level-headed tennis and won with a lot of class.”

While there were many instances of strong individual play throughout the week, Zenner said it was McCormick’s No. 2 singles match against the St. Mary’s team that really stood out to her. Losing 4-6 in the first set, McCormick picked up the second set 6-4. Forcing the tiebreaker set, McCormick won the final set 10-4.

“(At that point) we had basically wrapped up the match with a ‘w’,” Zenner said about the overall battle against St. Mary’s. “But she came back from down a set to push it into a tiebreaker. She played with confidence and poise.”

Zenner said the journey was about more than just additional competition.

“The trips are more then going and playing matches,” she said. “The girls really bond and get to know each other. It’s a good experience.”

The team will play two matches at home this Friday. The first will be against Wartburg (Iowa) at 3 p.m. in the McPhee Center, and the second will be an exhibition match against the University of Minnesota Club, set to start at 7:30 p.m. at the YMCA.

While she enjoyed the Florida trip, Welch said she looks forward to the upcoming matches and that it’ll be nice to play at home.

Monson said the team would build off of the Florida victories and try to keep the momentum going for its future matches – including the automatic qualifier later this month.

He said, “We’re going to continue to work hard and play smart tennis, consistent tennis.”