Coaches in any sport have nightmares about one thing – injuries.
They are among the most common and most frustrating problems to deal with in sports. When a key player goes down, less-experiend players must step up and fill the void. For the women’s tennis team, that has been the case as of late. The Owls have had some success with it.
The team has notched a 3-2 record following a down 2005 season for coach Traci Green and the Owls. Last year the team went 5-12. The Owls have scored wins this season against Lehigh, Towson and New Jersey Technical Institute, while dropping matches to Penn and Syracuse.
The injury bug has already bitten the team just three weeks into the season. Two-time all-Atlantic Ten Conference player Ana Maslesa is sidelined with a broken arm, which doctors say will keep the senior out at least one to two months.
Maslesa was ranked No. 26 in singles in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s East Region after the fall season. The ITA had ranked Maslesa and doubles partner Yuri Kurashima the No. 14 pair in the East Region, as well.
Maslesa had won two of her three singles matches in the spring season. She had been equally successful with Kurashima, who Maslesa said should step up in her absence. Green has already anointed Kurashima, a junior, as the ace of the rotation while Maslesa recovers.
“We’re basically just trying to fill in the gaps with Ana’s injury and take it day-by-day,” Green said. “We’re going to be playing for survival.”
Even with Maslesa going down, Green has set the bar high. The Owls’ ultimate goal of winning the A-10 is still in place, she said.
“It’s going to be tough,” she said. “Even when Ana comes back, we have to work hard and stay on track. If we do that, we definitely have a shot. But we need to get healthy and just take it one step at a time.”
The two players who Green expects to step up are Kurashima and sophomore Sharanya Pattabi, who made tremendous strides by going undefeated in four matches during the team’s fall season. Green said Pattabi’s success has carried over into the spring. Pattabi has won three of her four spring matches, which convinced Green to move her to the second spot in the rotation, behind Kurashima.
“An injury to a solid player is tough,” Pattabi said, “and Ana is irreplaceable. So we have to step it up a notch, focus and work hard on getting the job done to make sure the team continues its success. This goes for me as well as every other player on the team.”
The Owls did something out of the ordinary this season by accepting three walk-ons. One of the walk-ons – sophomore Karina Collamer – hadn’t played competitive tennis in two years. Collamer said Maslesa’s injury has made her put those years behind her.
“An injury affecting our No. 1 player has forced me to play competitively with only a few practices under my belt,” Collamer said.
“I feel that as I keep practicing, staying in shape and staying positive, that I will be able to help the team win matches by being mentally prepared as well as physically prepared.”
The Owls have a long road in front of them, as their fall schedule only featured five matches. A key stretch for them will occur during spring break, when the team travels to Florida to play three non-conference matches in four days. After that, the Owls will return to tackle their A-10 schedule.
Making matters worse is that the Owls have only one match remaining at the Pavilion on Main Campus. Combine that with 14 road matches and a daunting task lies ahead.
The Owls have to take it one day at a time, Green said, and hope that Maslesa regains her form upon returning. Until then, the role players, including the team’s walk-ons, need to get the job done.
“The team has to work hard as it did until now and stay positive,” Maslesa said. “That is what will bring success to the team.”
Michael Mudrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.