Spring offers a test for young group

Rebecca Breland and Monet Stuckey-Willis lead a women’s tennis roster that features nine underclassmen.

An enclosed facility during a frigid winter is a blessing for most collegiate tennis programs.

Women’s tennis coach Steve Mauro and his team, for example, use the Legacy Youth Tennis and Education Center in Manayunk as their home during the winter months.

With the 15-minute commute to the indoor tennis complex from Main Campus, Mauro’s players are able to practice and play regardless of weather, which helps the team prepare for its spring schedule.

In the fall, Mauro made it his priority to enhance the conditioning of his players, which he said is key to the team’s success in the American Athletic Conference this season.

“The strength and conditioning has improved,” Mauro said. “I feel that the ladies are in good shape, but we need to get a little better to be able to compete in The American.”

Freshman Monet Stuckey-Willis said she takes the conditioning factor seriously, and that any practice time the team would log without it is wasted.

She practices frequently, and sometimes more than scheduled.

“I’m practicing a lot,” Stuckey-Willis said. “I stay on top of my fitness by going to the gym and practicing outside of the team’s scheduled time. Before I practice, I make sure to do at least a 15-minute warm up as far as stretching and running … it is important to warm up because if not, you can get injured and it will hurt your performance.”

After a strong first semester of collegiate tennis from his freshmen athletes, Mauro said the Owls’ first-year players are key to becoming a competitive force in the conference.

“This year’s squad is stronger than last year’s,” Mauro said. “The team is talented with the addition of [freshmen Stuckey-Willis, Yana Khon and Alina Abdurakhimova]. I feel that [Stuckey-Willis], Khon and Abdurakhimova will make an important impact on the team … with the addition of these ladies, by season-end we hope to be one of the best teams in the conference.”

Mauro said he has seen development in Stuckey-Willis and feels she can compete with the best in The American as a freshman.

Mauro said Stuckey-Willis’ resolve to improve in practice can help bolster her results in the long run.

“Monet is a strong player,” Mauro said. “She has a strong work ethic and I believe that she wants to be one of the best players in the American this season.”

Sophomore Dina Karina partnered in doubles play with Willis in the fall, when the trio amassed a 3-1 record.

The ability to motivate each other, Karina said, will be a key component for the pair this spring.

“We have some of the same characteristics,” Karina said. “[Monet and I] motivate each other, we both want to do well together and I believe that is important for us.”

With one senior on the roster in Rebecca Breland, the team is young, but that doesn’t faze Mauro.

“As a team, we are talented enough to compete with any of the teams in The American,” Mauro said.

He also feels the program doesn’t get the respect it deserves in Pennsylvania.

“I don’t think other teams know how talented our ladies tennis team is,” Mauro said. “Even the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t know that Temple produces year in and year out talent, as well as great teams.”

Dalton Balthaser can be reached at dalton.balthaser@temple.edu or on Twitter @DaltonBalthaser.

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