Women’s tennis turns the tide this season

The Portland State women’s tennis team finished in style last week, as they beat the Idaho State Bengals to earn the best conference record in the history of the program.

The Portland State women’s tennis team finished in style last week, as they beat the Idaho State Bengals to earn the best conference record in the history of the program. The Vikings finished in a three-way tie for fifth place with a solid 3-5 conference record. Although PSU was unable to clinch a post-season appearance, the team made tremendous strides from last season. However, as the team turns a new leaf, they also have to say goodbye to three key players.

Alongside the two departing seniors, Anya Dalkin and Caitlin Stocking, freshman star Yuki Sugiyama also ended her first and final season with the Viks, as she plans to return to her hometown in Japan to complete her education.

Dalkin said the upward trend the team has taken is only the beginning. The senior said that the consistency head coach Jay Sterling and his coaching staff has been a huge factor in the success of the team. Also, Sugiyama noted that beyond her family, the support of the coaches was a force behind some of her most crucial wins.

“I really wanted to do my best, and also I wanted to win for myself and for my parents,” Sugiyama said. “And also for my coaches, because they helped make it such a great experience here [at PSU].”

Dalkin departs as the team captain for the 2011 season, but she said that it wasn’t solely her leadership that helped bring the team together this season, but also a combination of her fellow senior Stocking’s leadership, as the two constantly tried to set positive examples during matches.

Despite the improvements this year, the Vikings opened their pre-season in an inconsistent manner. They split the opening two matches, suffered a string of losses, but were able to realign themselves with a pair of sweeps against non-conference opponents Willamette and Montana State-Billings. Unfortunately, the wins did not transfer to the opening part of conference play.

The Viks fell to the Montanas on the road, but regained their form when they returned to their home courts. PSU claimed their first home conference victory hosting Northern Colorado in the end of February, in a close 4-3 score.

A near month break from official matches separated the Viks from the second half of conference play. Following the break the Vikings fell into a slump, losing three non-conference matches, then dropping two in a row against Northern Arizona and Sacramento State. The Vikings tried to shake off their struggles, as Dalkin emphasized the importance of focusing on the final matches of the season.

“The matches that were really our goal to win were at the end of the season, so whatever happened in the middle of the season was all part of the buildup to the end,” Dalkin said.

Both of the last matches were against teams with similar rankings as the Vikings, and the team proved themselves both times. PSU first took the Eastern Washington Eagles in a 5-2 victory and then hosted Idaho State for the final match of the season, beating the Bengals with a 5-2 score as well.

The pair of Dalkin and Sugiyama opened the Bengals win with a victory in the No. 1 doubles position. Sugiyama also went on to win her No. 1 singles match as well. Both players said that winning this match was the highlight of the year, due to finishing the season on a win, and also being part of a team whose record will stand in the books.

Beyond the team record of most conference wins, Sugiyama departs PSU in the books for the most wins in the singles position with 13.

Looking back, the team has an interesting history, as the program was cut from 2003 until 2008, and has had a rough time getting themselves back on the track to success since their return. Dalkin said that the team showed great support for each other during matches and the overall improvement has been impressive.  

 “Not only were we supporting one another, but individually we were out there fighting,” Dalkin said. “And you could tell we were all out there with the mentality that we could win, instead of our mentality last year which was just going through the motions.”

As Dalkin, Stocking and Sugiyama say goodbye to the Viking team, they leave behind a team that’s certainly on the rise. Sugiyama and Dalkin both have their own advice to continue the development of the team.

“Make sure [the players] enjoy it,” Dalkin offered. “There were a lot of times in my [career] that I didn’t know if I was going to play for my full four years, so I think that it’s important that no matter what’s happening they push through it and finish out.”

Sugiyama added, “Even when you get emotional, you have to remember to stay calm, and just keep going.”

With a quality coaching staff, a team fronted by strong leaders and a desire to win for one another, the women’s tennis team hopes to build on their foundation and make even further improvements next season. ?