Depth Charge: women’s tennis team stacked with talent prime for competition

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Injury is inescapable in any sport, a fact no less evident in the women’s tennis team last season.

Following a fall slate of tournament play in which members of the team became better acclimated with one another, the Blue Demons asserted themselves as a force in the spring, rolling off eight consecutive match victories.

The run was short-lived, however, as DePaul went on to lose five of its next seven matches. The injury bug hit and its impact was unequivocal. “We had a really good start to last season – we were all really pushing and cheering for each other,” said sophomore Jasmin Kling. “We tried to keep it up especially when playing the better teams. And then at the end, we kind of got injured and lost a bit of energy.”

Even though the Blue Demons fizzled, they had their share of individual and team triumphs.

Kling, who was named Big East Freshman of the Year, had a memorable first year of college tennis. The Heilbronn, Germany native compiled a 15-9 cumulative record on the year, including a 6-2 mark against Big East opponents.

“I had no idea what it would be like playing college tennis. I was really open to anything – I had no expectations. So I was really happy when at the end, I got Freshman of the Year award,” said Kling. “It was a representation of how well I played over the season, as well as how well the team played.”

Perhaps the fact that the team didn’t completely combust at the end of last season is a testament to the ladies’ endurance, not giving in to hardships, according to head coach Mark Ardizzone.

“I thought last year we played well, but by the end of the year we got a little beat up,” said Ardizzone. “At the end of the year it was surviving — we only had six players who were healthy to play, and even two that weren’t 100 percent.”

Naturally, Ardizzone is looking forward to having “more bodies” out competing on the court this year, increasing the team’s chances of knocking out opponents and not having “to count on six kids every match, every weekend.” Other top returning players this year include a trio of sophomores Patricia Fargas, Rebeca Mitrea and Carolin Neumann, a core group that won 63 percent of their matches.

As for Kling, she was one of the six able to stay healthy and contribute every week. Now entering her second season, there are greater expectations for her to up her game.

“I feel a little bit of pressure, but it’s good pressure,” said Kling. She said receiving the conference’s Rookie of the Year award would be incentive to not only better her own performance, but those of her incoming teammates all looking to make their mark on the squad.

Though the fall season is just underway, Ardizzone’s excitement is perceivable, especially when talking about the breadth of the team’s talent.

“The strength of our team right now is that one through nine, man, it is the most compact one through nine I’ve ever had,” said Ardizzone. “A lot of times here we’ve had some really good players at the top, but this time our strength’s going to be our depth. It is going to be substantial at the bottom. We’ve never been this deep. Never.

“It’s kind of a fun group, because there’s probably not one tennis team in the country that has nine underclassmen. We have one junior [laughs],” said Ardizzone. “We’re just so young and it’ll all be new and exciting to them. I’m looking forward toseeing how they’ll handle everything.”

Ardizzone allows his players to set minor individual goals for themselves, but makes sure they understand that their one main objective every year is to make it to the NCAA Championships.

In his 14th season as head coach in 2010, Ardizone achieved the feat of leading the program to its first-ever championships bid. Since then, the team has gotten close, most recently garnering a third-place finish at the Big East Championships last season, but just missed the elusive NCAA tournament berth.

In order to regain their footing as one of the top programs in the nation, Ardizzone said the team will rely on its strong singles play and work especially hard to hone doubles. Like German native Kling, many members of the squad hail from foreign soil, where singles play is emphasized. Doubles has presented a bit of a learning curve for Kling, but with so many opportunities thus far, she has grown fond of working with a partner on the court.

“I like playing as a team [in doubles] – you’re not playing with 11 people like on a soccer team, but at least there is two of us,” said Kling. “And they’re all such good players, you can really rely on them.”

When asked whether or not it’s difficult to generate chemistry with a doubles partner, Kling said it depends on the players’ skill sets. Her own preference is at the net, so she likes someone comfortable on the baseline to cover the backcourt.”

Kling’s doubles partner last season, Gia McKnight, was one of two graduating seniors along with Cali Gustafson, and someone with whom Kling enjoyed a great deal of success. McKnight and Gustafson were “heart and soul kids of the program,” according to Ardizzone, and their departures will be felt.

“Cali [Gustafson] and Gia [McKnight], we’re going to miss them from a leadership standpoint…I can’t even put into words how much,” said Ardizzone. “They had been here through our biggest successes making the NCAA’s, so they knew what it would take. Those two were just amazing captains and bled DePaul blue.

“I think they did an unbelievable job of passing on a legacy,” said Ardizzone, who has yet to assess which current Blue Demon will step into those formidable shoes.

But with fall tournaments underway and a spring schedule looming in the distance on the road to their elusive team goals, Ardizzone is thrilled for what this year’s team can deliver.

“We just have a lot of talent and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s between the ears once the matches come,” said Ardizzone. “It’s going to be exciting to see.”