Injury-affected women’s tennis team prepares for AAC play

Temple has only had a full lineup in one of its four matches.

Sophomore Cecilia Castelli practices on Oct. 27 at the Student Pavilion. She missed Temple's loss to Penn State on Jan. 28 with flu-like symptoms. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After winning its season opener, Temple has lost three straight matches.

The Owls haven’t played since Feb. 3. When they resume play on Saturday, the Owls will face four American Athletic Conference opponents in their next five matches. They’ll play all of their conference matches in the next three weeks.

Coach Steve Mauro said he feels good about the team’s chances in The American.

“If I can get everyone healthy, I think that we have a good chance to do well in our conference,” he said.

Having players available has been difficult for Temple early this season. The team hasn’t had a full lineup of six singles players and three doubles pairs since the first match of the season, a 7-0 win against Morgan State University on Jan. 19.

Senior Alina Abdurakhimova missed two matches due to flu-like symptoms. Freshman Oyku Boz and senior Rimpledeep Kaur have not played in the spring season due to lingering injuries.

Kaur has a knee injury, and Boz has a stomach strain, according to a team spokesperson. Both will be out of the lineup until March.

As a result, the Owls (1-3) have lost three consecutive matches to Penn State, Princeton University and George Washington University. The Owls postponed last weekend’s matches against the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. The dates of the rescheduled matches haven’t been determined.

Sophomore Cecilia Castelli missed the Owls’ match against Penn State on Jan. 28 also due to flu-like symptoms. Temple only had four singles players available instead of its usual six, so the team started down two points in its 4-0 loss.

Castelli returned to the court for the Owls’ losses to Princeton on Feb. 1 and George Washington on Feb. 3

“I hope now not to get sick anymore,” Castelli said. “I’m ready. … I’m working hard, and all of the team is working hard. We’re ready to do well this season.”

As players return to practice, Mauro is confident the team can perform well heading into its matches against teams from The American.

“If I can get everyone healthy, I think that we have a good chance to do well in our conference.”

Temple will play East Carolina (3-1) in its first conference match on Saturday. The Owls will then play Cincinnati (6-2, 1-0 The American), Connecticut (4-2) and Tulane (4-3) to round out their conference schedule.

No teams from The American are in the top 25 of the Jan. 31 Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll. As of Wednesday’s rankings, five of the conference’s singles players are among the ITA’s top 125 singles players. Temple will face the No. 53 singles player, East Carolina junior Celia Ruiz, on Saturday.

Tulsa and South Florida represented The American in the NCAA tournament last season. The addition of Wichita State will add more depth to the conference. The Shockers won the past nine Missouri Valley Conference tournament titles before joining The American. This year, they have two singles players ranked in the top 125. Sophomore Fatima Bizhukova is 73rd, and junior Sandra Honigova is 104th.

Temple has struggled to find success in The American the past three years. Last season, the Owls went 1-4 in The American and lost in the first round of the conference tournament.

In 2016, the Owls went 1-1 and lost in the first round of the conference tournament. In 2015, the Owls went 0-4 in The American, but they advanced to the second round of the conference tournament after beating 10th-seeded Cincinnati.

Senior Monet Stuckey-Willis believes the team has the potential to have a successful season before she leaves.

“Everyone has talent,” Stuckey-Willis said. “Everyone is dedicated. I feel like everybody has the ability to win a lot of matches.”

Despite the rough start to the season, Castelli also believes that the team can end the season on a high note.

“I think that we have big chances,” Castelli said. “Now we’re getting better. I think that we’ll have a good season because we are all good players, and we are really close with each other.”

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