Women's tennis looks to rebound after disappointing end to 2013 season
Senior Miranda Podlas and the women’s tennis team started the 2013 season 10-0 but fell in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament. The Bulls are off to a 5-1 start this season. Nick Fischetti, The Spectrum
The women's tennis team is no stranger to hot starts.
In 2013, the team started the season 10-0, winning all but two of its matches by at least five points. But once conference play opened, the Bulls lost their No. 1 singles player Tanvi Shah to an injury from which she never fully recovered.
Buffalo's once promising season ended in a 4-1 loss to Ball State in the Mid-American Conference Tournament (MAC) quarterfinals.
"It was frustrating," head coach Kristen Maines said. "Of course it's all in the back of their minds that they have something to prove, because, yeah, we did start off outstanding last year."
This season, four seniors - a huge percentage for a roster that only features seven players - lead the Bulls (5-1), and their sense of urgency has translated to the rest of the team.
Along with Shah, the other seniors are Marta Stoyanova, Anamaria Candanoza and Miranda Podlas.
More than half the team has played together for the last four years, so there has been a boost in team chemistry, Maines said. She also said the seniors have settled into their roles on the team and have become role models for the other girls.
Despite the strong senior presence, Maines noted the contribution from a freshman walk-on.
"Margarita Kotok, she was such a pleasant surprise," Maines said. "She came on as a walk-on in the fall, and she's really proven herself and been a really good asset on the court. She's been a really great surprise in singles and doubles. That's been a great addition for us."
Kotok's contribution serves as a microcosm for the way the whole team has been playing, with each member playing a significant role. After last season ending in disappointment due to an injury, the girls are being extra cautious with their bodies.
Maines said the girls regularly visit the athletic trainer to make sure their bodies are healthy.
The urgency the senior class brings to the court has manifested itself in practices and workouts.
"Our coaches have really stressed that increase in work ethic - give that little bit of extra effort every single day, and we'll be stronger at the end of the season," Maines said. "I think they've really bought into that."
So far, it has paid off. Though the Bulls aren't undefeated like they were this time last season, their record this season is 5-1. Their lone loss came to Cornell, and they lost by one point.
The Bulls are less than a month away from MAC play, which starts on March 21 against Eastern Michigan. Maines expects the Bulls to have success in the back end of non-conference play and believes they have the attitude to do it.
"I think they do have something to prove this year," Maines said. "They want to stay healthy, they want to do well and I think they are making the same point this year that, 'Hey, we're starting off strong, but we are going to finish stronger.' I think that's the biggest difference."
Usually, the Bulls don't have an opportunity to see how they match up with conference opponents before MAC play starts, but Buffalo has a few teams on its schedule this year who have competed against MAC teams. Maines is excited to see the way the overlap works out.
The Bulls host Colgate (4-2) on Friday at 1 p.m. and Binghamton (1-3) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Miller Tennis Center.
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