Women’s Tennis: Tennis takes off with ‘ball in their court’

It was quite a successful year for Miami’s women’s tennis team in 2006. They made their presence known after a successful appearance in the NCAA championship, taking Stanford, the sport’s dominant force, to the limit before ultimately coming up short. This year, they hope to take the next step: claiming a national championship.

Miami is primed to make a run to the top this year, featuring three individual players and two doubles teams ranked in the top 100, according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. Six out of Miami’s eight players are also returning, meaning they have experience in high-pressure situations.

They’ve already taken a big first step, winning five of six singles and two out of three doubles matches at the FIU Invitational, as well as sweeping FAU last Friday. These successes can be attributed to excellent play from everyone, led by the No. 1 ranked player in the country, Audra Cohen.

“Cohen is an exceptional leader. She’s obviously at the top of our lineup. She’s done great things for our program over the course of the last year,” Head Coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said.

“Audrey Banada, who’s a senior, is definitely a leader on our team. She’s getting ready to break all sorts of records for Miami. I expect all of the girls to lead in some facet.”

Banada, a senior, has arguably made the biggest splash thus far this season, taking down No. 10 ranked Shadisha Robinson.

The team has sought to reload following their run to the championship last year, adding a transfer from Boston University, Gina Sabatino, and recruiting two players from outside the United States.

Laura Vallverdu, who hails from Spain, and Claudia Wasilewski, from Boulogne, France, bring their international play to Coral Gables. Vallverdu, sister of men’s tennis team member Daniel Vallverdu, and Wasilewski, provide a coaching challenge as they become introduced to American collegiate athletics.

“I think the most important thing with these international student-athletes is really trying to teach them how important college athletics is in the United States,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “In Europe, when you go to a University, you just go to a University. There aren’t these rivals, there aren’t conference titles, there aren’t national titles.”

Of course, it’s never easy to repeat success on the collegiate level. Players are lost, injuries crop up and something completely unexpected typically happens. Success is determined by how teams deal with their challenges.

“Any coach who coaches eight women can tell you what their obstacles are going to be ahead of time, I think they’re lying to you,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “Every week has a new obstacle. But what I’m trying to get through to our kids is ‘the ball’s in our court.'”

Matthew Bunch may be contacted at m.bunch@umiami.edu.