Young Tennis Team Continues To Improve
GREENSBORO-Numbers don't always tell the whole story. The 2012 final statistics for the North Carolina A&T women's tennis team show that they finished the year 2-14 overall and 1-5 in conference play. But the stats don't tell the full story of their performance.
"The girls played as hard as they could. They did the best job they could do, and I'm proud of them," said A&T head coach James Dunwoody, who finished his seventh year at the helm of the program this spring. "The girls went through the season as professionals. They worked hard, they worked as a team; they helped me out a lot."
The Aggies fell short of their goal of making the MEAC tournament and producing a 10-win season. But there were strides made. The Aggies won three times as many singles victories this spring than they did in 2011, and increased their doubles wins by more than tenfold.
Most of the winning this season was also done by some of the youngest players on the team, boding well for future seasons.
A&T had three players tie for the team lead in singles wins with sophomore Victorea Austin, sophomore Kimberly Stalling and first-year junior April Burrage winning four apiece. Stalling led the team with three MEAC singles wins. Austin had a team-best three-match singles winning streak from Jan. 29-Feb. 10, including recording the only point for the Aggies at Davidson. Burrage, who walked onto the team in the fall, combined with freshman Kenya Colbert to lead the team with six double wins.
The duo went 6-6 at the No. 3 spot, and also posted a three-game doubles matches winning streak this season. They also captured three MEAC doubles victories.
"(April and Kenya) were very respectable in doubles during the whole course of the year, and that does not only encompassed MEAC competition, but also out-of-conference competition. They were very competitive in everything they did," Dunwoody said.
Where the Aggies struggled was in the category of picking up critical points. Dunwoody was pleased with their overall effort and dedication, but saw the need for more confidence and precision in their execution. Those skills can be developed for next season over the summer and in the fall.
He said that each student-athlete has committed to working on specific skills over the summer in order to be even more competitive in 2013. Colbert will be working on maintaining rallies and sustaining a high level of play. Austin will be working on building up her confidence and avoiding hitting short balls. Stalling will be working on developing her upper body strength and developing her muscle mass. Cayla Cross will be working on her serve and her on-court disciple. Burrage will be working on her backhand.
Overall, he is also looking to step up the conditioning side of their preparations for next year.
"I've got to make sure when the season starts next year, I've got to be a little bit more involved with the training room," he said, adding that he'd like to see more strength development and conditioning for his student-athletes. "Next year, I'm going to be a lot more involved with what they're doing down in the training room. I want a lot more running."
But in addition to personal growth and development, Dunwoody knows it's through strong recruiting that will help keep the program on an upward trajectory.
Dunwoody is expecting to bring in some highly talented recruits for the 2013 team, in addition to welcoming back all of the 2012 team (except for senior Azeib Nigatu).
"I want to bring in a fresh 1 and 2 and I want to move the rest of them to 4, 5, and 6," said Dunwoody. "Cayla, and Kimberly and that group, I want to move them to where they need to be so they can win."
He also added that for the program to succeed, there need to be developments in several facets of facilities, equipment and team personnel.
"To enhance tennis at North Carolina A&T, as a coach, the number one priority has to be getting the program back on campus. Get the bathroom facilities complete and the courts resurfaced and up to a playing standard. That's the first thing that's got to happen," he said.
Dunwoody added that it would help improve recruitment for the women's team if the University brought back a men's tennis program. He added that the program would greatly benefit from the addition of an assistant coach and with more local recruiting, both in the county and state.
The program plans on competing on campus next season, as the renovations to the tennis courts are planned to be completed before the season begins. With the returning experienced players, strong recruiting class and a home crowd, Dunwoody is confident that the team can start to add more into the win column in 2013.
"My girls are very popular. They have nice little posses. As sharp as they are, if they come back next year and we're on campus, I feel confident that the exposure to tennis will be uplifted, not only on campus but off campus," Dunwoody added.
One thing he doesn't have to worry about for next season from his student-athletes is their academic work. Half of his team was named to the MEAC All-Academic Team this season.
"I'm especially proud about how the biggest percentage of them executed in the classroom. That made me feel good to know that they're still prioritizing academics," he said. "To lose can be depressing. Nobody wants to lose. But then you lose, you go back to your dormitory, you think about getting your butt beat, but then you know about you've got class tomorrow, you've got work to do. All the girls are hard workers academically. They work at it and they take pride in their performance."