The 2019-2020 season was off to a hot start for the Red Foxes tennis program. They dominated Monmouth and Rider in October, shooting off to an early 2-0 conference record.
Fast forward two months: highly competitive University of North Carolina Wilmington entered the Cross County Tennis Facility in Wappinger Falls, NY, ready to school a still-hot Marist team. After losing 1-6, one would think the unit’s confidence would be knocked down a bit or that a coach would be filled with rage the next day. That’s definitely not the case for the Marist women’s tennis team.
According to junior captain Julia Gabay and head coach Gary Sussman, this loss to UNCW benefits the program more than it hurts it. “The first premise is that these non-conference matches were scheduled to get you ready for conference play,” Sussman said. “So the level of play is tough. On paper, the ratings [on] that particular team was higher in almost every spot than any of my girls.”
For Sussman, who also serves as the director of both the men’s and women’s tennis programs, picking those non-conference teams to play is a difficult art. In any sport, particularly an individual one like tennis, it’s hard to get better if you play talent that’s worse than you. On the other hand, no one wants to play a game that results in a blowout. There has to be some level of competition. That’s exactly what UNCW was for Marist.
While junior Sophia Chavarria secured the fourth singles match in straight sets – which gave Marist their only win of the day — the talent from UNCW’s Rachel Marthinsen was overpowering. Chavarria and senior Amy Galloway were unsuccessful in their doubles match against Marthinsen and Lauren Robbins, losing 3-6. Marthinsen has proven to be a key player for the Seahawks, as she played at the top of the lineup against the Red Foxes for the first time in her career. She came out victorious winning a singles match against Gabay by scores of 6-2 and 6-0.
However, with a 2-0 conference record and many more games ahead, Gabay thrives on maintaining an underdog mentality. “I kinda like going into those matches almost as the underdog,” the newly appointed captain said. “On paper, they definitely have higher ranked girls, and they’re a higher-ranked team, but it takes the pressure off my shoulders and I can go in and really play my game.”
Sussman traditionally treats non-conference games like experiments. He likes to use these tests as opportunities to solidify match positioning before MAAC play opens up again. Though he’s lost his three and four players from last year’s lineup, new blood is filling the gaps. For instance, freshman Vanessa Ciano and junior Chavarria found themselves taking on new responsibilities for the first time against UNCW. Their results were telling.
“Vanessa played at three… [Chavarria] played [at] four for the first time,” he said. “They played in the Fall, but this is higher competition than Monmouth or Rider. Vanessa was outstanding; she lost in a match tie break against a very tough girl. Sophia won her match, I’ve never seen her play like that.” High praise to take moving forward, perhaps.
There aren’t many ways to put a positive spin on a 6-1 loss. But for a team that’s looking to dominate in MAAC play, the tougher competition – and experience itself – helps to fortify mental endurance and physical ability. What does this mean for fans of the Marist women’s tennis team? Stick in there. A few losses may appear on their overall season record, which now sits at 2-1, but this team is highly motivated going into MAAC play. A devastating MAAC Championship loss to Fairfield last year means they’re looking for redemption.
The Red Foxes are due to face off against Siena on April 4. Until then, they’ll be put to the test as they’re also due to compete against Lehigh, Colgate, and Binghamton in the next few weeks. In that time, they’ll experience roster changes, mental checkpoints, and possibly some losses. Those things are bound to help the program much more than they hurt them.
Edited by Will Bjarnar
Header photo from Marist Athletics