Temple looks to shrug off slow start

Temple Women’s Tennis lost their first two matches of the spring season, but they hope to rebound and compete for a conference title.

Junior Temple tennis player Evie Wei hitting a ball in a doubles match against Rider University. March 30, 2023. | RJ FRANCESCHINI / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As the weather turns from a chilly winter to a warm light spring, many of the often overlooked non-revenue sports start to gear up for the start of their seasons. For the past several years, Temple Women’s Tennis has been one of those teams quietly writing its own success story. 

The Owls have been no stranger to high expectations under head coach Steve Mauro. Temple won 17 matches last spring and the doubles pairing of Maiko Uchijima and Jamie Wei qualified for the NCAA Championships Round of 32.

Wei graduated in the summer, but the Owls didn’t skip a beat when their fall season opened in September. Uchijima and her new doubles partner, Samantha Nanere, a transfer from Samford, qualified for nationals and advanced to the quarterfinals.

Temple had momentum on its side, looking to repeat its success as meet play opened up against VCU on Jan. 21, but the Owls dropped their first two matches of the season without picking up a single point. The team has the talent to compete with anyone, but will need to brush off their slow start in order to compete for their first American Athletic Conference title in program history.

“I think we’re getting better, and if we can win at least one more match we can get better seeding,” said senior Sena Takebe. “There are four new players this semester, so I am very excited for them to play well so hopefully we can do better than last semester.” 

The Owls boasted two nationally ranked doubles tandems last season with Wei and Uchjima and Evie Wei and Veronika Kulhava. Evie Wei and Kulhava finished last season with a 16-2 record, the highest win total in a single season in Temple history.

Only one player from each tandem remains at Temple this season after Jamie Wei graduated and Kulhava transferred to Kansas State in the offseason. The Owls still returned most of their roster from the previous season outside their two top pairs. 

Takeba and Thamara Frasser Kawaratani joined Uchijima and Wei in coming back to North Broad Street for another season. Frasser Kawaratani won 11 matches as a freshman in 2023 and hopes to continue improving in her second season in the Cherry and White.

Freshmen Marianthi Christoforidou and Veda Prapurna joined the ranks this year and are looking to make an immediate impact. Nanere, who made her first trip to nationals in November, could be key to the team’s future success, but she and Christoforidou have both struggled to start the year.

Despite the fresh faces, Temple’s biggest boost is Vineetha Mummadi, who was on the roster last season but played just two singles matches before tearing her ACL.

Mummadi worked tirelessly during the offseason to get back with the team. Her drive was motivated by the desire to not only return, but be a main contributor for the Owls. 

“It’s almost been a year and four months, and the process was complicated,” Mummadi said. “There were so many ups and downs. Physically, my quad does not react as it used to, but all the [physical therapy] time came through. I was spending at least two hours every day in [physical therapy]. I feel I am in good shape after coming back from the injury.”

Despite the Fall’s success, the Owls have not seen their talent pay off in the spring season. Temple was swept by VCU 7-0 and fell to Princeton 8-0 just two weeks later.

Temple is confident they can pull themselves together, but it won’t be an easy task with how many new faces are on the roster. Assistant coach Frederika Girsang believes the team’s talent will ultimately outweigh their struggles, but it will take a lot of work on the court to get to that point.

“This is the beginning of the season,” Girsang said. “This is a good group and we have talented players. If we have a full team of healthy players we will have a good season.”

The Owls have months of competition ahead to establish some much-needed chemistry before the conference tournament on April 16. Temple will face Norfolk State on Feb. 23 and Howard on Feb. 24 after sweeping Siena College on Feb. 10 and Villanova on Feb. 11.

Temple has maintained one central goal since the season started: finally bring the AAC title to North Philadelphia. Each step taken by the Owls counts toward that end goal, and they haven’t taken any step lightly.

“Every match will help us prepare for the championship,” Girsang said. “One match at a time. It should come from the players themselves. The motivation comes from how much they want it. Work hard every day, and you will win.”

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