GREENSBORO—North Carolina A&T women’s tennis head coach James Dunwoody entered the 2013 season knowing that it would be a transition year for his Aggies, as his four freshmen would have to gain some playing experience to help prepare them to fill the holes left by his five graduating players.
On Thursday at the Piedmont Indoor Tennis Center, the Aggies continued to try to make that transition during a 6-1 loss to UNC Asheville.
But the 2013 season has turned out to be an even bigger transition for the Aggies than anticipated. After beginning the season with 12 players on his roster, Dunwoody had just six active players available for their Thursday match against UNC Asheville at the Piedmont Indoor Tennis Center.
Season-ending knee injuries to No. 1 singles player Kenya Colbert and senior starter April Burrage and the departure of three senior players for personal reasons has meant that the remaining six players have had to step up to fill the void. They have definitely taken advantage of the opportunity, and have made strides this season.
“I think the 5 o’clock in the morning practices have helped," Dunwoody said. "And they’re practicing more specifically on what their weaknesses are,
Following each match, according to Dunwoody, he asks each player for their thoughts on their strengths and weaknesses, which they then work on in practice the next week. That dialogue has been a crucial part of the development of his freshmen.
The increased playing time has also been key for first-year players Jayla Scott, Takeyrah Reid, Unique Hawkins and Shaunasie Perkins.
“Freshmen are now playing and they’re in the lineup on a regular basis so they’re getting a lot more hits, they’re seeing a whole lot more balls, and when they are in practice they’re getting a whole lot more attention,” Dunwoody said. “So we’re seeing everybody improving, we’re seeing the attitudes improving, and it’s improvement every match so far.”
Reid, Hawkins and Scott all started for the Aggies in their match on Thursday. Scott, who has been bumped up from the No. 5 singles starting position to the No. 2 spot over the course of the season, leads the team with four singles wins on the year. She had the second-longest singles match on Thursday against the Bulldogs, before falling 6-4, 6-0 to Emily McNall.
Hawkins also turned in a strong performance in the No. 5 singles match on Thursday, battling back from an 6-0 start against Gillian Lewis to win three points in the second set.
“I got a pleasant surprise out of Unique Hawkins," Dunwoody said. "That’s the best she’s played for me. As a new person, of course we’ve been looking for a little uplift in her game. Today her attitude was good. She showed a lot of pride and she really wanted to play. I really do appreciate that."
But the freshmen aren’t the only players who have filled the holes in the A&T lineup this spring.
Junior Kimberly Stalling, who volunteered over at the No. 1 singles position when Colbert went down in the first match of the year, has proved to be an invaluable player this year. She has three singles wins to her credit this year and has taken her opponent to three sets thrice this season—the most by any A&T player this season.
On Thursday against the Bulldogs, Stalling was the last Aggie to leave the court, battling to 7-5, 7-6, 10-8 defeat to Ericka Rivero in the No. 1 singles match.
“Kimberly Stalling is a big key to what we’re trying to do,” Dunwoody said. “She’s very competitive and will not leave anything on the court. She volunteered for the No. 1 singles spot, and that was a big positive for me.”
While there are two matches left in the season, including Senior Day on Friday, April 5 against Longwood a 1 p.m., Dunwoody is pleased with the growth his team has shown this season.
“The record might look bleak, but there is some potential on the team. I think that they are showing that they are capable of winning,” he said.
Tennis Match Results
UNC Asheville vs North Carolina A&T
Mar 28, 2013 at Greensboro, N.C.
UNC Asheville 6, North Carolina A&T 1
1. RIVERO, Erickia (ASHW) def. STALLING,Kimberly (NCAT) 7-5, 7-6, 10-8
2. MCNALL, Emily (ASHW) def. SCOTT,Jayla (NCAT) 6-4, 6-0
3. BOISSEVAIN, Christin (ASHW) def. AUSTIN,Victorea (NCAT) 6-1, 6-1
4. SOLDIER, Amryn (ASHW) def. REID,Takeyrah (NCAT) 6-0, 6-0
5. LEWIS, Gillian (ASHW) def. HAWKINS,Unique (NCAT) 6-0, 6-2
6. ESPARZA,Kendra (NCAT) def. HAMEL, Zoe (ASHW), by default
1. HAMEL, Zoe/RIVERO, Erickia (ASHW) def. STALLING,Kimberly/SCOTT,Jayla (NCAT) 8-1
2. BOISSEVAIN, Christin/MCNALL, Emily (ASHW) def. AUSTIN,Victorea/REID,Takeyrah (NCAT) 8-0
3. SOLDIER, Amryn/LEWIS, Gillian (ASHW) def. HAWKINS,Unique/ESPARZA,Kendra (NCAT) 8-1
UNC Asheville 9-7, 2-3 Big South
North Carolina A&T 2-11, 1-4 MEAC
NCAT won No. 6 singles by default due to injury.