Top player returns just in time

At the beginning of the season, the one thing that was going to make or break the women’s tennis team’s chances for success was injuries. Hard times ensued after top singles player Ana Maslesa broke her arm a few matches into the season.

Seven weeks later, Maslesa has returned to the lineup and is looking to propel the Owls (7-11) to a higher seeding in this week’s Atlantic Ten Conference Championship, set to begin on Thursday.

“It feels great to be back,” Maslesa said. “When you are out, you just have to stay positive and do as much conditioning as possible.”

Second-year coach Traci Green agreed that conditioning is the most important step in returning healthy.

“Being on the sidelines so long takes its toll both mentally and physically,” Green said. “You have to get the right mindset back on the court, and get your body back in shape. Getting Ana back though will be a great boost for our team.

“We are finally fully healthy, something we haven’t been all season.”

Currently, the Owls are 11th in the conference, so if a legitimate run is going to be made, quelling their four-match losing streak against La Salle today will be a start in the right direction.

To qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the winner of each conference tournament advances to the NCAA Regionals. The teams that win regionals move to the NCAA Tournament as one of 16 teams.

The Owls first have to worry about their A-10 competition and working Maslesa into the mix.

In Maslesa’s absence, junior Yuri Kurashima and sophomore Sharanya Pattabi filled the void and took on leadership roles.

Kurashima leads the team with a 17-9 singles record. She is 14-10 in doubles play. Pattabi, still young to the team, holds a 12-8 singles record. As to why she had such success, Kurashima said she avoided making drastic changes to improve her game.

“I just tried to believe in myself and stay focused – be positive, and take advantage of being No. 1,” Kurashima said. “It didn’t matter who I played. I just blocked out the tough mental parts and gained more confidence. Once I gained confidence, I just let it all out on the court, and anything can happen. I know if I do well, everyone will follow.”

“Yuri is a dynamite leader,” Green said. “I’m hoping she can stay hot through the tournament.”

For the Owls to do well in the conference tournament, no single player needs to step up, but rather the whole squad from top to bottom, Green said.

Kurashima and Maslesa will be successful at the top of the rotation, Green said, but freshman Felicia Frazier and junior Barbara Oria Boer will need to contribute, too.

“Everybody has to step up and work hard,” Maslesa said. “Each person has a role and has to do their own thing.”

Green agreed: “It’s about how we come out. If we come out alive and ready to go, we definitely can do some damage.”

At this point in the season, there are no excuses, Kurashima said.

“We have to come out strong now that we are healthy,” she said. “If we keep focusing in practice, we’ll be fine.”

Michael Mudrick can be reached at mmudrick@temple.edu.

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