The Owls are still adjusting to their new conference.
In past seasons, coach Steve Mauro has repeatedly said conference matches are crucial because they determine seeding heading into the conference tournament. As a result, Mauro scheduled several matches in the Atlantic 10 Conference in previous seasons to ensure that his teams were prepared.
But this season’s schedule looks a little different for both teams in their inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. The move caused problems for Mauro, who was unable to schedule as many matches in The American.
“We schedule a year in advance and moving into new conference made it difficult to schedule conference opponents,” Mauro said.
This difficulty resulted in the men having only one conference match on their schedule this season, while the women have four. The men’s team competed in seven conference matches last season, while the women’s team competed in nine.
However, seeding for The American will be based on national ranking. Mauro pointed to the strength of schedule for both teams, saying he believes the level of competition remains high and he doesn’t feel the lack of conference matches will hurt the readiness of the team for the conference tournament.
“Even though we’re not playing a lot of conference teams, this year I scheduled a really tough schedule against some top teams,” Mauro said. “I think that’s helped.”
Freshman Vineet Naran said he thinks playing a variety of teams has its pros and cons.
“It can be harder to get into a rhythm, but I think it’s fine and our schedule is good enough to prepare us,” Naran said.
The important thing, Naran said, is continuing to grow as a team and develop – which can be difficult when playing a tough schedule.
“Every match, we’re learning,” Naran added. “We’re young and we’ve been playing together.”
One of the senior leaders on the women’s team is Yana Mavrina. At times, Mavrina said, it can be uncomfortable against unfamiliar opponents.
“It’s a little bit of a disadvantage to play against teams you do not know,” Mavrina said. “But you just have to be out on the court and try for each point and eventually the wins will come.”
However, the women’s team is looking forward to the challenges of competing in The American.
“We are really excited to be in the new conference,” Mavrina said. “We know that every match is going to be a challenging match. We believe in ourselves. It’s exciting to play against better teams than last year.”
Sophomore Minami Okajima said she finds the conference transition to be similar to her first season as an Owl.
“Last year I was a freshman and I didn’t know any of the players, so it’s kind of the same thing this year,” Okajima said.
Both the men’s and women’s teams are struggling this season. The men’s team is 0-8 and the women are 2-4. As both teams continue to look for their own identity, knowing much about their opponents takes a backseat to gaining momentum.
Mauro said for this reason, both teams need to focus on their own play.
“It’s still just tennis, whether you’re playing a school from around here or a conference opponent,” Mauro said.
Greg Frank can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @g_frank6.