Women’s tennis look for big year with new head coach

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By Haley Shotwell

Like the rest of the spring sports at Radford, the women’s tennis team’s season is underway. However, this year’s team will have a new face coaching from the sidelines as former men’s player, Martin Sayer, takes over at the helm.

Sayer, who takes over for former coach Bruce Harrison, spent one season prior to accepting the head-coaching job at Radford with the Virginia Tech women’s team as an assistant. Sayer is one of the most accomplished student-athletes to ever come through Radford.

So far, the team seems to have adjusted well to the new coach as junior Meg Napolitano says the team and the coach get along very well.

“Coach Martin has been a great aspect to our team,” she said. “He is very encouraging and wants us to be successful. If we lose he just takes it as something we need to work on and improve in practice.”

Junior Gemma Valls would also agree that the team and the new coach are working well together. (Full disclosure: Valls has written for The Tartan previously.)

“Working with Coach Martin has been awesome. I feel really lucky to be able to learn from a player like him,” she said.

The team, who finished with an overall record of 7-16 last year, was picked to finish seventh this year in the Big South conference. That would make sense, though, as there are currently no seniors on the team and only three juniors including Napolitano, Valls, and Taylor Newman. That leaves three sophomores in Allison Michael, Taylor Fay, and Grace Sarver, as well as two new freshmen in Sara Andrade and Gisela Garcia, both of whom are from Spain.

“This year, not having any seniors will only help us for the future,” Napolitano said. “As a junior I do not feel like I have priority over anyone else on the team so there isn’t any pressure. This year having a new coach will be a rebuilding year that we will take towards our advantage and will make us that more ready for the following seasons. I am just trying to do my best to be a great, encouraging leader and help the young freshman and sophomores work their way to the top.”

Valls says that while the team is quite young, there is not a big age difference, so she does not feel as much pressure. As a senior, though, she expects that to change in the coming year.

The Big South will be just as tough as ever this year, as Napolitano and Valls both agreed that Winthrop would be the team to beat. But in order to get ready for the stiff competition the Highlanders will face in the BSC, the team has an even tougher out of conference schedule. According to Valls, that’s just the way Coach Martin wanted it so that the team is fully prepared when the time comes for conference play. The team currently stands at 1-2 on the season but the juniors believe that everyone has shown improvement, even in the losses.

“The early tournaments have been difficult but definitely something each player has and will learn a lot from. So far this season we have been playing some teams we have never played before so the competition is something we all look forward to,” Napolitano said.

After an okay season last year, Napolitano and Valls believe that the key for a strong year is how close the team is. Napolitano said that the support and cheering from all directions is a huge advantage as they try to climb their way up the Big South rankings.

“We take it year by year,” she said. “Results from last year are just numbers. We are working really hard on and off the court so the hard work will definitely pay off! All we can do is walk out on the court and just fight for the win and represent RU with a good name.”

“I think we have been working really hard and we are all excited to keep improving and getting better. We are a lot more confident than last year,” Valls said.

Like most of the other spring teams at RU, the tennis team will travel for spring break to compete at someplace a little bit warmer than Radford. The team will play three matches over the span of spring break.

“Florida is definitely something all of us look forward to. We all love playing in the warm weather and of course love the beach and the fun extra activities we have planned. I love it,” Napolitano said.

“It is physically tough because we play and practice a lot but it feels so good to escape from Radford’s weather,” Valls said.

As for team goals this year, it is mainly about improving and taking things one-step at a time during this rebuilding year.

“Our team motto is ‘work hard, try hard.’ So I believe our goal is just to give every match our all and practice to the best of our ability, and if we do that we will be hard to beat,” Napolitano said.

The team will host their first home match on March 18 against BSC foe Campbell.