RIO GRANDE VALLEY – For The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Vaqueros women’s tennis team, the 2021 spring season was about making progress.
Whether it was making progress in the classroom, on the court or even with the COVID-19 Pandemic, it was about moving ahead in the right direction.
“I was very pleased with the progress our team made during the spring season,” UTRGV Head Coach West Nott said. “I was impressed with their attitude towards handling all the adversity with the pandemic and how they embraced all the uncertainty with a positive mindset. I think that attitude allowed us to be excited for each day and be grateful to be out there competing with our best effort. I believe the team is moving in the right direction for the future and they are maximizing their potential.”
The type of progress the Vaqueros made this spring started before the team hit the court in early January. Each member of the squad had to buy into the team goals and expectations.
That type of buy in was shown in the early morning practices, the extra hitting sessions, and the endless hours of drills and on court training. All of that put together really helped set the right attitude for the team and for the season.
“I feel lucky to coach this group of ladies,” Nott said. “We expanded the roster with a mix of local talent and players from all over. I was unsure how things would go when they arrived on the doorstep in January, but they certainly exceeded my expectations in having great team chemistry. I think it is a testament to each individual’s character on the team to wrap their arms around each other and pull for each other regardless of the circumstances. It was rewarding to see it unfold.”
The Vaqueros had six returners from the previous season, and they certainly helped set the standard for the team. The group of returners that included, Kristyna Mamicova, Valeria Montero, Ana Platisa, Sandra Putz, Katarina Sasaroga, and Alicia Thal, all brought in experience that could help teach the incoming group.
The returning group had a chance to reset things after the 2020 season was cut short and they wanted to take advantage of it.
“The returners did an excellent job of setting the tone and backing up our team message,” Nott said. “We spent a lot of time communicating as a team, building the trust, sharing feedback throughout the pandemic. I think that really allowed us to hit the ground running with our team culture. When the new players arrived, they just followed right in with little hesitation. It was very fun to be a part of.”
The Vaqueros welcomed in six new members to the squad this spring in Asia Allen, Natalie Arce, Isabelle Bahr, Valeria Gracia, Lea Karren, and Anna Mora. While the returners set the tone, it was the newcomers that kept the energy going all season long.
The key was allowing the newcomers to take ownership of the team and that group really did run with the idea.
“The freshmen were all great people who loved to be at the courts,” Nott said. “That youthful energy and their smiles really helped create a fun, hardworking, team first atmosphere on a daily basis. I encouraged all the players to share their talks in team meetings and we always valued each other’s opinions in a respectful way. Each player was encouraged to be a leader in their own way, and it certainly showed in their actions and thoughts.”
Bahr and Karren certainly led by example as they worked their way into the starting lineup this spring.
Bahr played all her singles match in the top two spots in the lineup as she came away with six victories while three of those came in Western Athletic Conference play. Bahr added 10 victories in doubles and paired with Sasaroga to post a 4-2 WAC record.
Bahr was recognized by the other WAC coaches as the WAC Freshman of the Year while also earning All-WAC Honorable Mention.
Karren won a team-high nine singles matches while going 4-1 in WAC play. Karren also earned All-WAC Honorable Mention.
The hard work and dedication exhibited by Bahr and Karren was validated with their success this season. Coach Nott believes the key for them was they were allowed to be who they are on and off the court.
“Izzy and Lea created their own luck by how they are as people,” Nott said. “They love the game, they work hard, they embraced the team setting, and they were themselves. I. think the most important thing is to allow each person to be themselves and be confident in who they are. They certainly were confident people who were their own best cheerleaders out there.”
Bahr and Karren weren’t the only Vaqueros to receive some All-WAC awards.
Sandra Putz came away with a spot on the All-WAC Second Team in singles after posting a 4-1 record in WAC play and finishing the season with a 7-5 record in singles.
Montero earned All-WAC Honorable Mention honors after teaming with Karren in doubles for a couple of wins in WAC play.
Sasaroga also earned All-WAC Honorable Mention after teaming with Bahr in doubles.
Things started to come together for the Vaqueros towards the end of the season as they put together three WAC wins by defeating Chicago State, Seattle U, and Dixie State.
Coach Nott believes the taste of success the Vaqueros got in the spring will drive them to push for more moving forward.
“I think getting a taste of some success as a team was extremely joyful to experience,” Nott said. “I know each player wants to taste that feeling of performing well together on a more consistent and sustainable basis. They know what we discussed after our last match and what our summers needed to look like in order to make another jump forward for the fall. This is the great part about coaching and college sports.”
A lot could be learned from the 2021 spring season. It is those that learn and adapt that find those trying times rewarding.
The Vaqueros knew that they weren’t the only ones going through all the uncertainty, but they were grateful for the opportunity to learn and adapt this spring.
“Everyone across the country had the same type of adversity throughout the year and we took the stance that we needed to handle the randomness better than our fellow competitors,” Knott said. “We were grateful for the opportunity to be out there. There were so many great people behind the scenes who made the season possible. We were coming from a play of ‘Wow, we are so lucky to be out here. Let’s make the most of it’.”
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