In last season’s St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference semifinal match, the Webster University women’s tennis team was upset 5-4 by Westminster College. The Gorloks were trying to defend their 2010 SLIAC title. Principia College won the SLIAC championship, but this year’s team appears poised to defeat Principia and take back the conference championship.
Webster coach Michael Siener said because Principia won last year’s SLIAC tournament, the Panthers will be the favorite until another SLIAC school beats them. Siener likes his chances with his women’s team.
“I anticipate both teams will be right there in the tournament at the end,” Siener said.
Webster returns its top three players — seniors Allison and Paige Tungate, and junior Lindsey Hays.
“We’re still very good on the top end,” Siener said. “The three girls I have coming back — the Tungates and Lindsey — are very good leaders.”
Webster did lose its No. 5 and 6 players, Maria Arias and Hannah Wojahn, but bring in a strong freshman class, which adds to the team’s depth.
“Overall, with the recruitment and new players we have on the women’s side, it is the best women’s team I’ve had here,” Siener said. “Top to bottom, we’ve got nine players who could all play in the top spots. It’s going to make us really hard to beat for teams, because on the back end, we’re going to do some damage.”
Freshman Marissa Lewis will be one of the newcomers playing in the middle of the lineup for the Gorloks.
“I think the six spot is just as important as the one spot,” Lewis said. “We all hold our own. There’s always support for each other. Not one spot is greater than the other — they’re all the same. It’s just a number. It doesn’t really matter.”
The team’s depth allows top players to play without added pressure of having to win their specific matches in order for the team to succeed.
“We’re good enough to where I don’t think anybody has got to take on the burden of being the best player,” Siener said. “They all just need to play solid. If they all play solid, we’ll continue our success.”
Webster swept Lindenwood University-Belleville 9-0 in its first match of the spring season.
In their singles matches, Paige and Allison Tungate won at No. 1 and 2, respectively. Hays won at No. 4. Freshmen Lewis, Lauren Hacker and Mackenzie Wilder won at the 3, 5 and 6 spots, respectively.
In doubles, the Tungates teamed up to win at No. 1, Hays and Lewis won at No. 2 and Hacker and freshman Kathleen Kennedy won at No. 3.
Webster finished last season 9-4 overall and 5-1 in the SLIAC. Other than the Westminster loss in the SLIAC tournament, Webster’s only conference loss came at the hands of Principia, 7-2. The Gorloks went 7-1 during the fall season, but Siener said that doesn’t automatically translate to SLIAC success.
“We had a great fall, but nothing is guaranteed,” Siener said. “I don’t want them to be over-confident and think we’re just going to walk through this league because Principia and Westminster beat us last year. We beat Westminster in the league, and they turned around and beat us in the tournament, so they showed anything can happen.”
Although Lewis wasn’t on last season’s team, she believes this year’s team has what it takes to knock off Principia and all other SLIAC teams to win the championship.
“I definitely like to be optimistic when it comes to these things,” Lewis said. “We also have to play point by point. You can’t rush into anything. If any team, we’re the one to (defeat Principia). We just have a really close bond. That’s something a lot of teams might not have, but we do.”