Preview: MU tennis coach plans to ‘make a statement at the ITA regional’

The Tigers come into the ITA regional tournament with zero game action under their belts this fall after their doubleheader against UCA three weeks ago was postponed.
Sophomore Ellie Wright prepares for the serve. Mizzou Tennis Complex, Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Columbia, Missouri. Photo by Photographer Marco Storel

Frigid temperatures and increased wind speeds have arrived across the southern portion of the Midwest, which means the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Regional Tournament has arrived for the Southeastern Conference.

Missouri tennis is slated to open their season between Friday, Oct. 23 and Sunday, Oct. 25, at the Billingsley Tennis Center at the University of Arkansas. It has not been confirmed when any SEC team will compete or who will compete, due to a coaches’ meeting on Thursday evening.

Missouri tennis coach Chris Wootton said the team is prepared if circumstances were to change.

“We are going to have a really good plan of action,” Wootton said. “Then we’re immediately going to change that plan of action within a second’s notice, and it’s not going to be a problem with this squad.”

This is the first time Missouri will see fall tennis action after their doubleheader against Central Arkansas scheduled three weeks ago was postponed after a Missouri player tested positive for COVID-19 test. The matches have been rescheduled for Thursday, Oct. 30, in Conway, Arkansas.

The Tigers are hungry for a victory since they have not seen the win column since Feb. 17 when they swept Southeast Missouri State in a match at home. Since then, they’ve lost five in a row to Memphis, Minnesota, Mississippi State, LSU and Arkansas, respectively.

Missouri never got to make up ground as the COVID-19 pandemic put the season on a hiatus and ultimately canceled it.

The Tigers will have the task of stringing some wins together as they will face schools like Missouri State, UCA, Oral Roberts, North Texas, Texas Christian University, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Oklahoma State.

The tournament will have no B draws, only A draws, which are more competitive.The event will start with 64 singles and 32 doubles.

Missouri has four freshmen on their active roster “: Valentina Vazquez Pongruber, Olga Bienzobas Fernandez, Rom Cardenas Rifka and Melissa Cartis.” This will be their first taste of college tennis in their young careers. Wootton hopes his freshmen get a chance to compete since none of them are nationally ranked or regionally ranked. However, they own respectable universal tennis ratings.

“They understand how to play and what to do,” Wootton said. “I believe coaches are going to be shocked to see how good our team really is, in comparison to the team that has been here over the last three or four years.”

Wootton said he has a ‘wants and needs’ list going into the tournament. To fulfill the needs component, he needs his squad to be able to compete in multiple matches, meaning they need to win a match or two to make a statement at the ITA regional.

When it comes to the “wants” aspect, he wants his team to ‘take care of business’ of the schools that are not in the Big 12 or the SEC. Moreover, he wants his players to compete at a high level against the other teams until the very end, whether they win or lose.

Although Missouri’s roster does not consist of a single player that is NCAA nationally ranked, ITA nationally ranked or ITA Central Division ranked, Wootton has created a ‘wish list’ of a lineup.

Wootton said senior Ellie Wright is their number one player and will compete in one match for the Tigers as long as she stays healthy. Wright posted a 14-9 record in singles play last season, while also winning seven of her first nine matches in doubles plays, coming at the No. 2 spot. However, the rest of the lineup is in the air.

“Our number seven player could play our number two player on a daily basis,” Wootton said. “The freshmen could jump in there and play 2,3,4 and the upperclassmen could 5,6,7, but all we want to do as a team is win.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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