Sports, Women's Sports, Women's Tennis

Long Beach women’s tennis looks to build momentum at UNLV

Long Beach State women’s tennis will begin their preseason in Las Vegas for the UNLV Fall Tournament, a three-day event where the Beach plans to show that last year’s rise to success was no fluke.

Last year, the Beach ended their season on an encouraging note, putting up a competitive fight in the first round of the NCAA tournament against a ranked UC Berkeley team, losing 4-2. 

“We’ve got a veteran team with seven returners,” head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello said. “[So] I think there are high expectations, but since it’s a new season we’re going to start from this point on and [start] to build forward.”

The Beach’s only player not to return was Dominique Meyer, a member of the team’s most successful doubles tandem with sophomore Wiktoria Rutkowska. Despite the loss of Meyer, the Beach still have reigning Big West freshman of the year in Rutkowska, as well as the fundamentally sound junior Lalita Devarakonda and experienced senior Natalia Munoz.

Rutkowska said she is not worried about the upcoming tournament in Las Vegas.

“I feel like I’ve never left because coming back here as a sophomore is just different,” Rutkowska said. “You know everything better so it is not as surprising anymore, so you’re just enjoying it.”

Her teammates may not have the same technique on the court, but their playing styles are just as effective, which is why Hilt-Costello said that the team staying true to itself is vital. 

The importance of consistency also stems from last year’s losses, with games against Houston and UC Santa Barbara putting the team out of its element and playing to its opponent’s strengths.

Having full control over its singles matches is only the first battle, as Long Beach only looks at its matches on a set-by-set basis. The real adjustments will take place in its doubles matches, with the team using the trip to UNLV as a way to introduce two new duos to the mix.

“It’s a little hard to get used to, because I really liked playing with Dominique [Meyer], we were good friends on and off the court,” Rutkowska said. “Now I’m playing with Emma [Bardet], and I’m looking forward to it because change is always good.”

Despite being some of the team’s most talented players, Rutkowska and Bardet’s largest obstacle was their mental fortitude on the court. This issue was apparent in singles, but doubles were less of an issue.

The sophomore duo had a tendency to let minor mistakes overwhelm them, and they showed visible frustration that opponents took advantage of. With a year under their belts, both will have spent enough time together to build chemistry.

The Beach will continue to experiment this preseason, as sophomore Zara Lennon and junior Sadaf Sadeghvaziri have been paired together. The tandem may complement each other well since both of their games are relatively similar. 

Both players are consistent on the court, but it didn’t translate to winning as often as they had hoped. This gives the duo a foundation to work off of, with building chemistry being the only piece left of the puzzle.

“Really, the goal is to improve and see them stepping forward in areas of their game where they want to see [improvement],” Hilt-Costello said. “If that means we’re taking a tight loss because we’re working on something, that’s OK.”

Long Beach heads to Las Vegas, Nevada for the UNLV Fall Tournament Sep. 27-29.

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