Temple Women’s Tennis prepares for conference championship

After overcoming adversity for an impressive regular season, Temple Women’s Tennis enters the conference championship tournament as the top seeded team.

Temple Women’s Tennis has been at the top of the conference for the majority of the season, holding a 16-4 record. | RJ FRANCESCHINI / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Temple Women’s Tennis ended the 2021-22 season with a record of 11-6, the team was satisfied with their performance, but knew they needed to improve if they wanted to achieve their goal of reaching the top of the conference standings.

Fast forward almost a full year later, the team has exceeded those expectations, holding a record of 16-4 in the regular season with just the American Athletic Conference Championships left.

The Owls have been on top of the conference for the majority of the season and at one point boasted two nationally-ranked doubles pairs. A combination of talent and experience has led them to this point, but their season will come to a head in Orlando, Florida, on April 19. Without a conference championship, their successful season will not be remembered in the same light. 

Despite their improvements, the team has faced multiple hurdles along the way. Before the season started, they lost junior Vineetha Mummadi for the year with a torn ACL. Head coach Steve Mauro needed to change his playing combinations to make up for the injury. 

“Our number one player tore her ACL so she has been out for the year,“ Mauro said. “We’ve had to mix some things up with our combinations but we have a good group of players.”

The new combinations have been working throughout this season. The squad’s doubles team of graduate student Jamie Wei and freshman Maiko Uchijima leads the team with a 28-1 record, ranking eighth in the country.

The Wei and Uchijima duo, along with two more strong doubles teams consisting of sophomore Veronika Kulhava and junior Evie Wei as well as freshman Thamara Frasser Kawaratani and junior Sena Takebe, have helped boost the team’s performances throughout the year.

“I think we have some really strong players like [Jamie Wei] and [Uchijima] in doubles,” Kulhava said. “They always win the point, [Kawaratani] as well.”

After they began the season 1-1, the Owls won eight straight matches before faltering in late March, losing three out of four.

The team could have let those losses demoralize them and spiral to end the year, but the squad was able to identify the problem by paying more attention at practice, Kulhava said.

“There was a point where we doubted ourselves because the energy was low,” Kulhava said. “We needed to get more into it at practice and now as you can see we are fine.”

Since the losing streak in March, the Owls have been firing on all cylinders and have won five matches in a row.

The Owls were able to get past their midseason woes because of how tight-knit of a group they are. The team’s strong chemistry with one another has allowed them to learn each other’s tendencies and to trust each other when they aren’t playing their best.

The team has built a family-like bond due to the amount of time they spend together. Whether they’re going into Center City for the afternoon or eating at different restaurants as a team, the players are always trying to spend as much time together as possible.

Each player knows exactly what type of ball to set their teammates up with in every situation, helping to earn points no matter where the ball is played.

“[Kawaratani] is really fast and [Jamie Wei] has good touch, so I have to get used to it when we play,” Uchijima said. “Everyone is different and then combined it works out well.”

As they continue to win more matches and climb up the standings, the team feels more pressure to perform to the best of their ability each match. 

With the conference play set to begin on April 19, the Owls can feel how close they are to their hard work paying off. However, the team will attempt to stay grounded and enjoy the next few days.

Houston and South Florida will both enter the AAC championship tournament with a 13-8 record, just a few wins below Temple’s 16-4 mark. In total, six teams will enter the tournament with a record above .500.

Although the Owls had an impressive regular season, they will need to play perfect tennis to capture a conference championship.

“The goal is to win the conference championship,” Mauro said. “We have the chance to win. It’s all about peaking at the right time.”

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