Tennis is usually viewed as an individual sport, a one-on-one battle between a player and their opponent. For the Occidental women’s tennis team, however, 12 student-athletes find that despite often playing on separate courts, they are able to function as one cohesive group.
“What is most important is that we are one team unit—which is sometimes hard in such an individual sport,” captain Lucy Malloch (junior) said.
In their latest match, the Occidental women’s tennis team lost to Lewis and Clark College 8-1. Despite winning only one of their twelve matches this season, both coaches and players feel that the team is still making progress.
“We are a growing program, and so we know that this year isn’t going to be the best in terms of records,” Malloch said. “With a new coach and a generally young team, we can’t get too much into wins and losses.”
This is head coach Will Morris’ first season as the women’s tennis coach. Although he is new to the tennis team, he has also been a professor, Wellness Coordinator, and associate head men’s basketball coach. Morris’ extensive leadership experience manifests itself in his skill at foster a tight-knit team.
Sara Charney (senior) has played on the tennis team since her first year at Occidental. She has noticed a change in the team dynamic since Morris was named head coach.
“He’s such a great motivator, organizer and communicator, which I feel gives a different vibe to the team,” Charney said. “I feel like this has been the closest we’ve ever been. He doesn’t really talk about winning, but more about improving and fighting.”
For Samantha Farrell (first-year), the close-knit and supportive atmosphere of the tennis team was a factor in applying to Occidental.
“I knew the team was really close and like a family. In the practices, they would work hard but it was really fun. The coach wasn’t too intense but he was still motivating,” Farrell said. “It’s been exactly what I was hoping for.”
In addition to motivation from their coach, the conference offers the team a high degree of challenge, with the majority of teams ranked in the Top 20 nationally.
“Our conference is one of the best in the nation,” Morris said, “Tennis in the SCIAC is very high end. In many ways it is closer to Division I than typical Division III programs.”
Lauren Hutkin (first-year) did not intend to play tennis at Occidental, but instead came to play soccer. After noticing her past tennis experience in her application, Morris contacted her to play for the team. Hutkin believes that the difficulty of the conference will only improve the teams skills.
“The teams we play are just amazing, and I think that playing those teams are going to make us better in the end,” Hutkin said.
In addition to physical training during practices, Morris seeks to develop the team’s skills beyond the tennis court.
“In particular, I am focused on the mental part of the game which has carry-over to life. I admire mental toughness in athletes, no matter what the sport,” Morris said.
The team’s mental toughness was put to the test in a recent match against Pacific University. Charney won the first set and lost a second set. Despite dropping the second set, she was able to win the third set Charney and seal the victory.
“We’re exhausted by the end because we really fought for each point,” Charney said.
Morris believes that this season marks the beginning of a new era in team chemistry.
“The foundation we are setting now will be the foundation of Oxy women’s tennis for years to come: A close-knit team of talented athletes who strive to compete to reach their potential while enjoying the privilege of playing college tennis,” Morris said.
For Farrell, this attitude has been noticeable in the team dynamic.
“Everyone is so dedicated, and that makes for a really positive environment and you don’t feel like you are alone on the team ever,” Farrell said. “We have a mentality that it’s not about winning—it’s about doing your best and having a good time. I think that’s a huge thing that also separates us from tennis teams at other schools.”