As the sun beats down on the tennis court, the squeak of tennis shoes and the bounce of tennis balls echo across campus. Fresh off their 10th visit to the NCAA DIII Women’s Tennis Tournament, the Thunder are poised to make strides this fall to allow them to repeat the feat next spring.
After losing Julie Buursma, the 2015 CCIW Player of the Year and 2015 CCIW Singles Champion at number one-singles, the Wheaton women’s tennis team’s first task will be to replace this stellar graduate.
Expected to fill this void is junior Katie Park, who was the number-two singles player on the team last year. In fact, in the team’s postseason loss to Gustavus Adolphus, Park was the only singles player to win her match.
Senior Emily Jones will also play a large role in continuing Wheaton’s women’s tennis tradition of excellence. Last year’s number-three singles player, Jones was named to the Second-Team All-CCIW team to conclude last season and posted an impressive record of 18-2 at number-three singles.
The Thunder will need yearlong performances from Jones and Park similar to those from last spring during the CCIW AQ Tournament. The Thunder narrowly defeated the Vikings by a score of 5-4 in the championship game, giving them an automatic bid to the NCAA DIII Women’s Tennis Tournament.
After a razor-thin margin of victory for the team, head coach Jane Nelson explained, “Jones and Park played the best matches I have ever seen them play. Both of them really rose to the occasion when the team needed them the most.”
The team’s only other senior, Anna-Katherine Barrett, is also expected to lead the way in doubles competition after a 12-3 record at number-two doubles alongside her partner, Jones, during the season last fall. Barrett and Jones also finished third at number-two doubles during the 2015 CCIW Championships.
“The first [team goal] is to connect with each other and grow closer as teammates,” Barrett explained in reference to her team’s fall ambitions. “Once we do that, I think we will have a really good chance at achieving our more measurable goal, which would be to win our conference tournament.”
Despite not winning the CCIW Tournament for the first time in 10 years last fall, the team is focused and hopeful that this year will not be a repeat of the last as they head into the beginning of this season.
“As easy as it can be to look ahead, we need to take each day of practice as seriously as any competitive match so that regardless of what happens at conference, we know that we did our best,” said Park. “I’m continuously inspired by the hard work, determination and camaraderie I see in my teammates and coaches both on and off the court.”