After taking an impressive leap forward during the fall season, the Valparaiso University women’s tennis team is poised to continue its forward trajectory this spring.
The Crusaders posted a combined 32-30 (.516) singles record during the fall, compiling more total singles wins than they did in any one full season (spring and fall combined) from 2007-2014. As the team reconvenes to get ready for the start of the dual season, confidence and excitement levels are at all-time highs.
“During the fall, you learn about your freshmen and learn about the new dynamics of the team,” head coach Tammy Cecchini said. “At the conclusion of the fall, our players decided they wanted to be pushed harder, so that’s what our practices have been like so far. Everything has been more intense.”
The Crusaders have one senior on the roster this season as Erin Staal (Grand Haven, Mich. / Grand Haven) rounds out her collegiate career. She played in seven matches during the fall season.
Staal is juggling a busy slate that also includes her work in the classroom as an elementary education major. She is student teaching from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, and Cecchini praised her independence and ability to condition on her own when her academic obligations prevent her from doing so with the team.
Meg Modesto (Chesterton, Ind. / Chesterton) has climbed to No. 3 singles for the Crusaders. She won three of her final five singles matches in 2016-17, with two of those victories coming in league play. The highlight of her season was a win over Green Bay on April 14 as the last match going in a 3-3 deadlock. Modesto’s victory decided the match as the Crusaders edged the Phoenix 4-3 for their first Horizon League win of the season.
Modesto was one of four Crusaders to enjoy a winning singles record this fall, going 5-4 in singles while also compiling a 5-4 mark in doubles play.
“Meg has improved tremendously since her freshman year,” Cecchini said. “She’s showing a lot of confidence. All three of our juniors are stepping up to be leaders. I’ve instilled that in them since their freshman year. Once you get to be an upperclassman, you’re a leader and a role model.”
The other two junior leaders referenced by Cecchini are Randi Wind (Park Ridge, Ill. / Maine South) and Halle Roach (Libertyville, Ill. / Libertyville). Wind racked up 11 singles victories (seven in dual matches) last year, the most singles wins in a season of any Valpo women’s tennis player in the last decade. This season, Wind will play No. 6 singles and pair with freshman Jelena Vujanic (Elk Grove Village, Ill. / Elk Grove) at No. 1 doubles.
Roach enjoyed a 4-4 mark in singles play during the fall. Cecchini praised her leadership in promoting the program to recruits and bringing a positive attitude to the court.
After making an immediate impact as freshmen, Jordan Kopfer (Eagan, Minn. / Eastview) and Dao Sysouvanh (Sun Prairie Wis. / Sun Prairie) are set to make even greater strides during their sophomore springs.
Kopfer picked up four singles wins and three doubles victories during her rookie campaign. She finished with a winning fall, going 4-3 in singles action.
Sysouvanh finished last year with five victories, all of them coming in dual play. She went 4-1 in her last five matches with all four wins coming in league contests. Her four Horizon League victories represented a team high. This fall, she joined forces with freshman Claire Czerwonka (Kenosha, Wis. / Saint Joseph Catholic Academy) to form Valpo’s No. 2 doubles tandem.
“Dao and Claire are a great team together; they balance each other out,” Cecchini said. “They’ve played doubles together since Day 1 and we’re not going to change that. They’re a great team mentally and physically and I can’t wait to see that continue to develop.”
The freshmen made their presence known right off the bat, as Czerwonka and Vujanic quickly established themselves as Valpo’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, respectively. They shared the team lead in singles wins this fall with six apiece as Vujanic went 6-1 and Czerwonka was 6-3.
“I’m excited to see how they perform now that they have one semester under their belts,” Cecchini said. “Before college, you’re spending your whole life playing in tournaments in junior tennis, then our fall season was mostly tournaments. Now that we start the spring, it’s all dual matches and we’ll get to see them learn how to play in that individual yet team environment.”
The Crusaders begin the dual slate on Saturday, Jan. 20 at IUPUI at 6:30 p.m. CT in Indianapolis, then visit Big Ten foe Purdue on Friday, Jan. 26. Other highlights include the spring trip to Hawaii, the home opener on March 23 against Omaha, The Valley opener on April 7 vs. Drake and the MVC Championship from April 27-29 in Springfield, Mo.
“We have great team dynamics,” Cecchini said. “We’re always there for each other and they take care of each other. It’s very family-like. We support each other, care about each other and cheer each other on. I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the start of the spring season with this group.”