Southeast's tennis team competes in post-season for the first time in 10 years
Southeast Missouri State's women's tennis team will compete in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament this year for the first time since 2007.
The Redhawks finished the season 13-7, tied for the second most wins in program history.
Second-year head coach Mary Beth Gunn is excited for her players to have the chance to compete in the OVC Tournament, which begins on Friday, April 21.
"It's a great feeling, and it was our goal coming into the season that we were wanting to make the tournament," Gunn said. "That's something that we wanted to give our seniors, one of my goals is to give that experience to everyone that comes to our program, to give them a chance to compete for the title and make it to the NCAA Tournament."
Last season, when the Redhawks went winless in OVC play, it wasn't all about winning and losing for Gunn, as she was trying to establish a new direction for the team.
"Last year I didn't come in until mid-November, and we weren't just focused on winning last year," Gunn said. "It was about building a culture in SEMO tennis, a winning culture where we take pride in our program and are a professional organization. Last year the focus was more of building for this season, so a lot of the groundwork was laid last spring."
One of the things Gunn has helped bring to the young team, which only has two seniors, is mental toughness. Whether that is not losing composure early in a match, or coming through in a close set, Gunn believes that resilience will help the Redhawks in the OVC Tournament.
"We have the confidence to win the close ones now," Gunn said. "We did that in our [non-conference games] against Evansville and Lipscomb, and I think that really got us ready for conference play."
Last season, one of the ways Gunn prepared sophomore Isabella Krupa for tougher competition was moving her to the No. 1 role and making her play against the best player on the opposing team weekly.
"That's one reason why I wanted her to play [in the top slot], because she already had experience at the position and had a couple of wins at the one," Gunn said. "I knew she could handle the pressure of playing at the top of the lineup, and she's done a fantastic job for us. Offensively on the court, she's been able to do what it takes to beat the top players in the conference."
While the spot she plays in doesn't matter to Krupa, she has been able to use the experience she had as a freshman to her advantage this season.
"I know a lot of people think when you first come in and play one it's kind of nerve wracking," Krupa said. "But this year especially, I'm not focusing on what spot I'm playing at, I'm focusing more on which spots everyone's at and where we can steal wins."
Krupa, along with freshman Oleksandra Doroshenko, is 13-5 this season in doubles play. Successful doubles play has been a difference-maker this season for Krupa.
"Definitely an improvement we've had this year versus last year is we've secured the doubles point a lot more often," Krupa said. "We really find that point encouraging, all of our doubles [teams] are solid and we really like playing doubles, so it helps boost our mood."
The team enters the OVC Tournament as the No. 4 seed, and will face Eastern Illinois in the first round at 10 a.m. Friday in Nashville, Tennessee.