Season of Unfinished Business: Tennis hits ground running with winning mindset

Graduate tennis player, Ryan Dickerson, hits the ball to Gonzaga during his singles match during the Bears 4-0 over Gonzage during January of 2020. Lariat File Photo

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

Make sure you have some heat protection because Baylor tennis is coming in guns blazing and with eyes set on victory. The 15th-ranked men’s team (4-0) and 23rd-ranked women’s team (3-0) have already kicked off strong this spring with sweeps against Lamar and SMU on the men’s side and sweeps against Prairie View A&M and Rice on the women’s side.

Thanks to the 2019-2020 season being cut short due to COVID-19 and the NCAA granting an extra season of eligibility as a result, both squads boast deep rosters full of talent and experience.

Adding Fuel to the Fire

Considering the circumstances of last year’s canceled season, the Baylor men’s tennis team is technically still the reigning Big 12 champion, having brought home the title in 2019. So, being picked second in the conference behind TCU didn’t sit well with the Bears. To add insult to injury, the 15th-ranked squad holds a national-best six ranked singles players, none of which were ranked in the top 40.

Interim head coach Michael Woodson said his players are just “adding the bulletin board material every single day.”

“They wanted to make sure that I knew they weren’t happy with the rankings,” Woodson said. “It was funny to see that. I knew right away it was the same thing with being picked second in the Big 12 … There’s been a lot of talk that this team is one of the best teams in the country, but maybe they’re not going to get over the hump because we will struggle against the other top teams at the top of the lineup. I think all the guys in the locker room know what we can bring, not just at 4, 5 and 6 and doubles, but everywhere in the lineup.”

The Bears, who went 13-3 last year, returned every player on last year’s roster, except for Jenson Brooksby, and also added three grad transfers to the mix. Of the 14 players on the roster, six have played at the No. 1 spot in the lineup, led by fourth-year juniors Matias Soto, who’s spent the most time at No. 1 for the Bears in 2020, and Sven Lah, who racked up the most wins last season at 25.

The Bears also saw the return of team captain Constantin Frantzen, who is ranked No. 10 with Lah on the doubles court. Frantzen said the competition brought on by the depth of the roster has been beneficial in keeping everyone accountable.

“I think it’s great actually, because it’s really tough to make the lineup,” Frantzen said. “I think it especially helps the younger guys, but also older guys because the younger guys push the older guys and the other way around.”

Baylor has already shown it’s a threat up and down the lineup, sweeping three matches and only dropping one point to Abilene Christian during opening weekend. The Bears are preparing this week for ITA Kickoff Weekend in Ann Harbor, Mich., where they will face the host, Michigan, on Saturday and either Texas A&M or Pepperdine on Sunday.

According to Frantzen, the Bears have their eyes set on another conference championship, and furthermore, the national title.

“We’ve got some unfinished business,” Frnatzen said.

Building on Culture

Coming off a lackluster 2019 season that was riddled with injuries, Baylor women’s tennis was rolling through the 2020 season with a newfound spark, going 10-2 before the shutdown. For head coach Joey Scrivano, the success the Bears saw last year was founded on the difficult task of a creating a winning culture in a college sport that doesn’t have some of the luxuries that football and basketball do when it comes to depth.

“There’s nothing harder (than building culture), and it’s so scarce. We’re just so short-sighted,” Scrivano said. “Ultimately, where we are right now, the team is in a great place, the culture is very healthy and the players are up to the challenge of building that culture on a daily basis.”

The players have bought in and it showed last season. Returning senior Angie Shakhraichuk and junior Kris Sorokolet each had 16 wins last year to lead the team while junior Alicia Herrero Linana and sophomore Paula Barañano combined for a 17-2 record in dual matches. Herrero Linana also wnet 5-1 on the doubles court with Mel Krywoj in the spring, playing on the top court after they were both forced to sit out in 2019 due to their eligibility status.

However, 2020 is over and the new season is here.

“Last season was so short, but it’s already in the past. We don’t think about it anymore,” Herrero Linana said. “We’re working so hard to have a better season than last season. Right now, we’re just focused on what is coming.”

The one thing the Bears didn’t have before is depth. With the return of Shakhraichuk and Jessica Hinojosa for a fifth year, and the additions of freshmen Audrey Boch-Collins, Caroline Kotarski, Hannah Pinto and Sara Ziodato, Baylor now sports 11 available players on their roster. The Bears also saw the addition of Alabama transfer Isabella Harvinson, who won’t be eligible until next January.

Scrivano said having “a bench” will aid in building that winning culture, but formulating the lineup will depend on who earns it during the week.

“It’s the simplest thing ever. The best players are going to play,” he said. “It’s not complicated stuff.

Baylor has already seen stellar play during its early season with sweeps in the opening double header with Prairie View A&M last Saturday and the sweep over Rice on Monday, which was highlighted by a dramatic tiebreaker win by Hinojosa, her 75th career victory.

The Baylor women’s tennis team will make the drive down to Austin Saturday to face Arizona State in the ITA Kickoff Weekend.