Written by: Ashley Westbrook
Two years ago, members of the EC Women's Tennis team were busy recruiting players in the Dining Hall. Last season, the same team finished ranked #5 in the NCCAA after finishing the season with a semifinal appearance in the National Tournament.
"We didn't have a team," junior, Chloe O'Connor said. "We were recruiting whoever wanted to join, so it was nice last year to be able to complete a team and get where we got. It was inspiring."
Without losing a senior to graduation, the Lady Lions are an experienced group and look to finish strong once again as they ride a 10-match win streak into postseason play.
How're they handling the pressure of a win streak?
"We do a lot of training in practice that is pressure based," said senior, Abi Muesse. "Also, having the same team as last year, we've built a support system. We know we're not the only person on the court that matters which helps each of us feel more secure and confident in our game."
Head Coach Kethan Darbar couldn't be prouder of how the Lady Lions are handling success.
"We expect to perform at a high level but we're also playing tougher opponents, so it can go either way," he said. "Because of the success we had last year, the girls are under pressure because they want to perform better, go one step further. I'm really proud of how they're handling themselves, we're doing good overall."
Looking back on the season, Coach Darbar identified the team's final fall season win against a Top 50 ranked team, Anderson University, as motivation for the spring season.
"The win against Anderson really helped us," Coach Darbar said. "After that win, we came into spring knowing we could do it. We have stood tall against several ranked teams which has made us realize that we're not far away from the top."
The Anderson win was eye-opening for the team, a match that they believe was their moment.
"We realized we could go pretty far," Chloe said. "It all depends on our mindset. We have to know what we are after and be hungry for it. It's not going to come after us, we have to go after it."
With a few matches left, the team's goal is to be ranked at the end of the season, something Coach Darbar believes is attainable if the girls continue to remain focused and work hard.
"After our win against Converse we set our goal for the remainder of the season," Coach Darbar said. "We established that we want to try and achieve a little bit more. That's the mindset they have, that's what we're working toward."
The Lady Lions give credit to Coach Darbar for helping them develop that mindset and putting them in a position to win.
"Coach always tells us if we want it, we can do it," said sophomore Victoria Silva. "We always have a chance to beat any team we face."
Coach Darbar believes the team's size contributes to their accountability because he often asks them to stretch or work out on their own.
"Everyone here was brought in under me," he said. "That's one thing that helps a lot as far as the philosophy of the team. They're becoming independent and reliable. They listen well, ask for my opinion and try to do the right thing."
As a group, Coach Darbar believes the Lady Lions work well together.
"We've created a bond over the past two years," he said. "It's fun to be around these girls and I'm just very proud of them. Many of our players are international students so they don't have mom or dad here. It's fun for me to coach them, and I hope they're enjoying this season as much as I am."
Two years ago, the Lady Lions recruited players in the Dining Hall, trying to field a complete team. Today, with their goals in sight, the future of the program is bright.
For more news on Emmanuel College Athletics, visit goeclions.com.