Veteran tennis team opens fall schedule Friday
Sept. 19, 2013
The Montana women's tennis team, the Big Sky Conference tournament runner-up the last two years, will open its fall schedule this week when the Grizzlies travel to Boise, Idaho, for the Jack Taylor Classic.
The three-day tournament will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Boise State's Appleton Tennis Center.
Coach Steve Ascher is in his sixth year at Montana, and his 2013-14 team is one top-heavy with experience. Of the team's seven members, two are seniors and four are juniors. Only redshirt freshman Mackenzie Rozell is an underclassman.
Despite the team's familiar faces that returned to campus last month, this fall feels like previous falls to Ascher: fresh and full of promise.
"Even though everyone is returning, I still feel like it's a brand-new season, in terms of my perspective," Ascher said.
"Everyone was focused and improved over the summer. Now I'm excited to see how those improvements play out in competition. I'm excited to see where we're at."
With so much experience returning, Ascher should see a team that competes for singles and doubles flight titles in Boise this weekend.
Montana lost just one player from last year's team, albeit a key component in the 2012-13 team's success in Heather Davidson, who played No. 1 singles and doubles for the Grizzlies.
All four players were recognized by the Big Sky Conference following last year's successful sspring that ended with a 15-8 record, a 9-1 league mark and a spot in the Big Sky tournament championship match, opposite Sacramento State, for the second straight year.
Gbadamosi earned first-team All-Big Sky honors after going 10-0 in singles and 8-2 in doubles during league play. Carter (9-1 singles, 8-2 doubles) was named second team, Driver (7-2 singles, 8-1 doubles) and Pelchat (8-2 singles, 5-5 doubles) were honorable-mention selections.
The Grizzlies played at the same tournament last fall and had matches against players from Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana State, Seattle, Utah State and Weber State.
As of Wednesday, Ascher did not know what teams are scheduled to send athletes to this year's tournament, and that's fine with him.
"I'm not too concerned with who we're playing at this point in the season. The important thing for our players is that every time they step on the court, they shouldn't care who it is across the net," he said.
"Obviously some teams have more value and more meaning because they may hold a regional or national ranking, but I like the idea of them putting on blinders until they get on the court, then no matter who it is they are facing, getting after it."
Ascher did not add any recruits to his team for the fall, and that's led to a team that looks a lot like last year's, but that's to overlook the loss of Davidson. Not only was Davidson a three-time first-team All-Big Sky player, her in-match intensity set the tone for Montana on game day.
"Heather really did a great job of helping the team establish a competitive identity, and not just last year but for all four of her years," Ascher said.
As for the loss of Davidson's leadership, Ascher adds, "That's something I'm trying to wrap my head around right now for sure." And what he's started to come up with are the potential benefits of a team of players in which each adds to the collective leadership in their own unique way.
"I feel like everyone needs to lead and that everyone leads in a different capacity," he says. "Just like every individual has her own strengths as a player, I feel like everyone has leadership qualities and that everyone can fill a niche in terms of what they bring to the team in the area of leadership."
The tournament at Boise State is the first of four fall tournaments for the Grizzlies. Montana will travel to Houston, Texas, next week for Rice's tournament, then compete at the ITA Mountain Regional in Las Vegas the second weekend of October. The fall season concludes at Fresno State's tournament in early November.
"I think every fall we've had a strong schedule and we've done well with it, and this fall is no different. The level of competition is going to be very good," Ascher said.
The spring dual season opens with an exciting weekend of home matches at the Peak Racquet Club. Montana will host Minnesota on Jan. 31 and Washington State on Feb. 1. Both programs were nationally ranked during the 2013 spring season.
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