Tennis season in review

In many ways, 2010 has been a tough season for both the Portland State men’s and women’s tennis teams.

In many ways, 2010 has been a tough season for both the Portland State men’s and women’s tennis teams. After former head coach Brian Parrott left the program mid-season to pursue outside business ventures, the teams often played without several key players and both teams failed to make it to the playoffs.

The men’s team finished fifth in the Big Sky Conference, while the women finished eighth. The men’s tennis team finished their season in the fifth spot in the Big Sky standings with a 4–4 record in conference and a 7–10 record overall. In the coach’s poll earlier this year, the team was picked to finish seventh in the conference.

“I am disappointed in the fifth place finish and I know the guys are as well,” interim head coach Jay Sterling said. “When you look at the teams that finished in the top four in the conference, we had opportunities to beat two of them. The difference between being in third place and fifth place came down to a matter of points in a game.”

The Vikings began 2010 with a 0–7 whitewash to Portland but chalked up crucial victories in February against Big Sky opponents Montana State (5–2), Eastern Washington (4–3) and Northern Colorado (6–1).

After a loss to Weber State in early March, the team’s chances of making it into the final four in the Big Sky depended on winning at least two of their three remaining conference encounters in April. Going into the final games, Big Sky Athlete of the Week junior Alex VanDerschelden seemed confident.

“I feel like we made a lot of progress in the last two years and I think we have a good chance of making the top four in the conference,” VanDeschelden said.

However, in the match against Big Sky favorite and eventual champion Sacramento State, the team played without VanDerschelden and junior Chris Rice. Four players in the team were suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

“Teamwork and accountability for actions is something that we focused on a lot this year,” Sterling said. “As a team, we set rules and established reasonable consequences for breaking them. Unfortunately, prior to the Sac State match, a team rule was broken by some of our players, so the appropriate consequence was enforced.”

The team lost its matches against Sacramento State and Northern Arizona and won its final game of the season against Idaho State.

“Chris and Alex were the cornerstone of our singles play, and they played with a lot of pressure on them throughout the season,” Sterling said. “Looking at our record, when they did well, the team did well. The truth is, Chris and Alex are going to run up against tough opponents, and when that happens, we need other guys in the lineup to step up and help them out by finding ways to win on a more consistent basis.”

However, Sterling remains optimistic about the progress the team has made through the season.

“We’re happy with what we accomplished as a team this season. We finished for the first time with a non-losing record in conference play, we had opportunities for the first time to make the conference championship, in a season where they only took four teams instead of six, we matured as tennis players and individuals, we grew as a team in terms of team work, trust and accountability.”

He added, “Everyone in the lineup improved their games and we saw significant improvement in our doubles play. We announced ourselves as a team to be reckoned with in conference play, and a future contender for the conference championships, and we finished higher in the conference than any of the other coaches had projected we would. So, all in all, it was a successful year for the Portland State men’s tennis program.”

On the other hand, the women’s team finished eighth among the eight Big Sky teams (0–8) and were 2–17 overall in 2010 without a conference win. Its only victories came against Southern Oregon (6–1) in February and cross-town rival Lewis & Clark (5–2) in March.

“The women had a tough season and I am proud of them for working their way through it,” Sterling said. “I asked a lot of them to step up in the lineup and play at spots where they weren’t comfortable, which was necessary with the loss of a couple of key players.  For the most part, they competed well and worked to rise to the challenge. It’s hard not to win more often, but our team kept their head up, worked hard in practice and served as excellent representatives of Portland State University and the Portland State Tennis program at each and every match, handling their losses with the same class and grace as their victories.”

Going into the final game of the season against Big Sky team Idaho State, both teams were yet to win a conference match. But the Viks lost 1–6 to Idaho State at the Club Green Meadows in Vancouver, Wash., thereby relegating themselves to the bottom of the Big Sky standings.

Sterling feels that there is a lot of scope for improvement in the women’s team’s game. Specifically, he said the team struggled with their serves, serve returns and impatience. It wasn’t until the final three matches of the year that Sterling noticed consistency in these areas.

“It was interesting because we would work on these things in practice and everyone would do really well, no matter what kind of pressure I created, but for some reason our team had a hard time transferring their high level of performance in practice to match play. Certainly for next year, everyone on the team needs to develop a more consistent second serve, to alleviate pressure on their first serve,” he said.

Sterling said, “Our women just need to trust themselves more and be more patient in point construction instead of trying to end points so quickly, and do a better job of transferring their solid fundamentals in practice to match play.”