The UCR women’s tennis team finished their 2018 season on Friday, April 27 in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals in a 4-0 loss to UC Santa Barbara. Before that loss the team won its first tournament game since 2009 by defeating UC Irvine in the first round, 4-2. The Highlander caught up with women’s tennis Head Coach Mark Henry via email to get his thoughts on this season and this team.
|Jonathan Fernandez: How do you feel your season went as a whole?Mark Henry: Overall the season went very well even though we didn’t win as much as we would’ve liked. The team chemistry was fantastic and they worked hard and improved throughout the season. Our first ever win against UCI at the tournament really helped the team have a good feeling about the year.
Fernandez: How did you feel about your two tournament matchups?
Henry: The match up with UC Irvine was fun but tough. We had never beaten them but we knew if things went right we had a chance because we had just lost to them 4-3 the Saturday before the tournament.
UCSB was the number 1 seed in the tournament and had beaten us pretty quickly in our match earlier in the season. We knew we had improved, and coming off our win with UCI we thought we could give them a better match. They were still just too good for us, even though we felt better about the way we played them in the tournament.
Fernandez: I know this was your teams’ first conference win in almost 10 years so what made this team special or different from teams past?
Henry: This group of Seniors, adding some key younger players, the chemistry. The team has been steadily improving but this team was definitely better and ready to compete this year. We had several close matches that could’ve gone our way early in the season and I know they wanted to show that they could do it.
Fernandez: Sophomore Sara Khattab and freshman Tia Elpusan had a great season finishing with a program record 16 matches as well as earning Doubles Big West Honorable Mentions. How confident are you with that young doubles team leading the way for your team going into next season?
Henry: I’m very excited about their future because they were able to play at this level regularly without playing close to their best tennis consistently. Next year I expect them to be much tougher and much more consistent and that should really help the whole team continue to improve our doubles play. They’ll definitely be the leaders starting off the fall.
Fernandez: You do have five players who will be graduating this season, (Karla Dulay, Natalie Penner, Kassie Truong, Chloe Pham and Tamila Vaksman) what have they meant to this team and what impact do you think they’ve had on the younger players who will be back next season?
Henry: (Chloe Pham was listed as a redshirt Junior but we will be losing her to graduation as well)
They have been great for the program, great for the younger players, and a privilege to coach for the past four years. They are all outstanding individuals who have given a lot to the team while also doing excellent work in the classroom as well. It’s pretty amazing to have 5 freshmen come in the same year, all stay on the team for four years, and all graduate together. Their ability to balance school and playing on the team has certainly rubbed off on the younger players. They have been great students and great people as well. They’re definitely leaving the program in better shape than when they arrived and I’m confident the returning players will continue to push the program forward.