Intense practices, nationally ranked opponents, world class athletes on the roster — the Temple women’s tennis is not your average team. Despite the numbers, the Lady Owls (3-11) have put together a roster worthy of hype.
“I am pleased with the team unity, they’re very tight. Historically we haven’t had that, so it’s nice to see,” Temple coach Tracy Tooke said.
So far, the tennis team has traveled to meet some of the strongest teams on the East Coast and beyond. However Tooke felt the record is reflective of the teams’ makeup.
“I consider this year a building year. We’ve had a pretty painful dual match season,” Tooke said.
The team dynamic is what truly makes this group special. The athletes make up a diverse mix of cultures and potential. The team includes sophomore René Deyzel from Kroonstad, South Africa, freshman Elisa Jimenez from Puebla, Mexico, and sophomore Nina Kumar from Tampa, Fla.
The two standout individuals of this squad are two women who hail from Croatia, sophomores Danira Penic and Lara Ercegovic. Penic and Ercegovic both bring tremendous talent, leadership and international experience.
As a high school student, Penic competed in the Junior Wimbledon tournament, Roland Garros and the U.S. Open.
“There is a lot of diversity on the team,” Penic said. “We are getting a long very well. I feel a connection with the girls on the team, which is helping a lot because we are there for each other. Our season wasn’t the best but we’re hoping to peak in [the] A-10’s. We’ll try to do the best we can.”
Even with the talented Croatians and tremendous improvement from the bottom ladder athletes, Tooke said “a lot of losing is going on.”
“We’re a very young team. I have two freshmen, two sophomores, one junior transfer and one senior,” she said.
The bottom part of their ladder is competing at a level they’ve never competed in — a Division I level. However, they have worked extremely hard despite the lack of tournament experience and have fared well. Tooke pointed out the potential of Penic and Ercegovic and said they both have the ability to be one of the top 20 players and top 10 doubles partners in the country.
“My experience in international competitions helps me and the team a lot,” Penic said.
“She is every aspect of what it means to be a competitive individual college athlete,” Tooke said. “Danira has a pretty good chance of qualifying for [the] NCAA championships.”
The teams’ immediate goals are to qualify for the NCAA championships. Long-term goals are to make a big national impact with a stronger team. Tooke hopes that the team will be a full team — eight deep — to compete on another level, in pursuit of a national ranking.
Saudia R. Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com