DIXON – They last played competitive tennis over six months ago.
The Sauk Valley Community College womens tennis team, who secured a spot at nationals with a third-place finish at the Region IV Tournament back on October 9, will head to Arizona to open the NJCAA National Tournament in Mesa on May 1.
“Just doing a lot of ground strokes, a lot of hitting, some serving, some running,” SVCC sophomore Maddy Jacobs said.
Many of the teams from warmer-weather parts of the country head into nationals having just completed their regular season and regional play. Four regions have held their tournaments in the past few weeks. Two other regionals are crowning champions on Saturday. For the Skyhawks, there is six months of rust to kick away before making the trip.
“The girls, a lot of them have been hitting on their own at Westwood,” coach Sara Kipping said. “A lot of them have been coming out here in the mornings. We’ve only practiced about four times together as a team. We’re doing what we can because I’m coaching the guys right now, so it’s hard to get them together with me. I think they’ll be ready, they’ll be fine.”
This is the ninth time the Skyhawk women have qualified for nationals under Kipping. The eighth time came in the fall of 2019, but that trip to nationals in the spring of 2020 got wiped out by the pandemic.
For the sophomore class of Jacobs, Sonia Chino and Alyssa Marquez, that means twice qualifying for nationals.
“I think that means we’re really strong together,” Marquez said. “We’ve brought more force to the game.”
During the regular season in the fall, the Skyhawks won their first four duals of the season, including a 9-0 sweep of Milwaukee Area Technical, before falling 4-2 to McHenry in a rain-shortened bout and 5-4 to Waubonsee.
Jacobs and Chino were finalists in the regional at No. 1 doubles, hoping to continue that successful partnership in Arizona.
“I think we’re pretty good together,” Chino said. “She’s excellent at getting those balls that are further on the line. She’s able to really execute those shots. I like to say I’m decent at the net. Together, we’re a pretty good combo.”
Jacobs also reached the final in her No. 1 singles bracket at the regional. Sydney Schott reached the final at No. 3 singles.
The doubles team of Schott and Alexis Sneek took third in the regional tournament in October, picking up a 6-4, 6-1 win over a duo from Waubonsee in the third-place match.
“We all cheer each other on,” Sneek said. “Everyone is super-supportive, win or lose. If you lose, they tell you to not be too hard on yourself. My partner, Sydney, she’s always encouraging me. It makes it really fun to play.”
“You never have to worry about having conflicts with your partner,” Sauk freshman Meghan Van Buren said. “You can always work together and no matter what, they’ll cheer you on.”
The final test will come in Mesa, Arizona, a venue more than 1,200 feet above sea level where the high on May 1 is expected to be 100 degrees, with temperatures in the 90s for the rest of the tournament.
“The key is going to be adjusting to the surroundings,” Marquez said. “We’re not used to the dry air, but drinking a lot of water and staying focused on each point will help us win.”
With a high level of competition expected out in Arizona, Kipping said the goal is for each player to get at least one win under her belt. It is not a single-elimination tournament, so players will get a chance to pick up wins in the consolation bracket. In her seven previous trips to nationals, Kipping’s teams have scored points four times.
“We don’t have super-big expectations. We’re just going to go out there and try our best,” Schott said. “Hopefully we’ll have fun. We want to go out there with good attitudes and not expect anything, but just try our best and see what happens.”