PASADENA (Feb. 6, 2019) – The Caltech women's tennis team has its sights set on returning to the ITA Division III national rankings in 2019 and might have the right combination of talent and camaraderie to make it there.
The Beavers are looking to improve on a season where they won three conference matches and took out then-No. 37 East Texas Baptist University in its most prominent ranked win of the year. This year, Caltech will be looking to add more ranked wins and could have ample opportunity to do so, as they are currently scheduled to face 12 teams in the ITA Top-40.
Caltech is returning senior captain Kana Moriyama (Redmond, Wash. / Redmond), who won 13 singles matches last year and has already positioned herself as one of the great players in program history. Moriyama competed at the Fall ITA Regional Tournament and saw her greatest amount of success playing alongside sophomore doubles partner Sarina Liu (Rolling Hills, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula). Liu came to Caltech last year as an accomplished singles player in her own right and alongside Moriyama advanced to quarterfinals of the 'Flight A' doubles draw this fall. The duo gained some added experience after playing 20 matches together in 2018.
Moriyama's leadership will be leaned upon, being the team's only senior, but 2019 will provide the opportunity for her to pass on everything she knows to a group of underclassmen looking to lead the next generation of great Caltech women's tennis teams.
"Kana has really stepped up with her leadership," Gamble said. "I think she has done a wonderful job with mentoring a young team that's made up of mostly freshmen and sophomores. She's a great role model who 'walks the walk' and is extremely invested in the team. We really value her experience."
The crop of talent on this year's team should be as good as ever, with the Beavers having added three new faces - all of whom are expected to contribute immediately. Michelle Hyun (Cerritos, Calif. / Gretchen Whitney), Anna Tifrea (Fullerton, Calif. / Troy) and Jennifer Yu (Queens, N.Y. / Stuyvesant) make up an exceptional top-15 recruiting class and each have the tools to have long, successful careers at Caltech. Yu has already tasted some collegiate success at ITA's, where she made an appearance in the 'Flight B' Championship despite entering the draw as an unseeded player. Hyun and Tifrea, the California natives of the group, are both three-star recruits who have demonstrated an ability to play up to the level of the competition they will see in the tough Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
"We're going to be a good team," Head Coach Mandy Gamble said. "Our freshmen are very strong and very experienced. They want to do well and are hard workers. I think it's going to be nice because we've already seen them begin to develop their identity and who they are as players. This year will allow our coaching to be more specific to each individual and help them reach their goals. We think they can accomplish a lot."
Junior Alexandra Bodrova (Russia / Kurchatovskaya School) and sophomore Ankita Roychoudhury (Madison, Conn. / Daniel Hand) will round out Caltech's seven-woman roster. Bodrova hit double-digit wins as a freshman playing primarily fourth singles and will be looking to replicate those numbers in her third season with the team where she could play a similar role after struggling with injury last year. Roychoudhury contributed eight wins out of the bottom two singles slots last year and should benefit from a year of consistent playing time. The bottom three singles slots were responsible for 31 of Caltech's 52 dual match wins in 2018, so the Beavers' ability to compete up and down the lineup will need to be a strength of the team once again as they look to score some ranked wins. With six singles spots available for seven players, each and every player will need to be ready to contribute as needed, though their closeness as a group could aid in preparation.
"I am especially pleased with how well this team gets along with one another," Gamble said. "We've been encouraging our players to be their own coaches and are teaching them that it's okay to constructively help each other get better. That could mean holding a teammate accountable with work ethic or timeliness, but it's really just sharing like-minded perspectives for the common good of the team."
With Moriyama and Liu expected to continue as Caltech's biggest doubles factor, Gamble will be tasked with extracting the right doubles combinations from the remaining five players that will put the Beavers in the best position to compete with some of the nation's most exceptional programs. Caltech will play 12 of its 17 matches at home, providing a chance to build some familiarity through routine. A strong team bond and momentum from an encouraging fall could put the Beavers in position to meet all of its goals.
Gamble believes the lessons a player can take from the court extend far beyond the results and can be monumental for one's personal growth off the court.
"If each individual on the team grows and finds ways to take the things we do on the tennis court and apply them to real life and in the classroom, that's a big success for us," Gamble said. "We measure success in players' personal growth and their confidence in what they can contribute to the team. The team has some lofty outcome goals but our main goal is to get better and take things one day at a time."
Gamble and the Beavers will open up their season on Saturday, Feb. 9 at home against defending SCIAC champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, the nation's top-ranked team, at 10 a.m.