Tennis’ freshman dynamic trio adjusts to college level

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Freshmen Natalie Johnson has adjusted well to the college level of competition and has shown quick progress throughout the season. She currently holds a 15-4 singles record at the No. 2 spot. Photo credit: Steven Mercado

Freshman Natalie Johnson of the Azusa Pacific women’s tennis team and freshmen Pascal Engel and Alan Leahy of the men’s tennis team each entered the first college season feeling nervous and not knowing what to expect. With the women’s team holding a record of 13-5 and the men’s team 13-4, each freshman has made significant contributions to his or her respective squad’s success thus far.

With a 14-4 record in No. 2 singles play, Johnson currently holds the most wins on the team. One of her biggest wins of the season was during the March 3 match against Lewis when she defeated No. 13-ranked senior Zsofia Lanstiak in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2. Johnson began the season with eight straight wins until her winning streak ended in a 6-3, 6-2 loss to BYU-Hawaii’s No. 26-ranked junior, Marietta Tuionetoa.

In doubles, Johnson’s overall record is 12-5 with five different teammate combinations. Johnson normally partners with senior Stephanie Quan at No. 3 doubles and they currently hold a 7-3 record as partners.

“I just try to focus on doing what I have to do every time and whether I miss the shot or not, whether I win or lose — if I just work my hardest and give it my all, I know that that’s all I could’ve done,” Johnson said.

According to head coach Mark Bohren, Johnson is very coachable and has a hard work ethic.

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On the men’s tennis team, Engel holds an 11-6 record in singles play. The majority of the season, he played at the No. 5 spot, going 7-3 at the spot. His last two matches, he played at No. 3 singles and is now 1-1 at the spot.

As a native of Germany, Engel entered the team having to adjust to the new hard courts as opposed to the clay in his home country. He said he felt an enormous amount of pressure knowing that he was now playing for a college team instead of a club.

“The first couple matches I played really tight and I [tried] to be loose and have fun on the court, which is very tough [for] me,” Engel said.

Engel’s new mindset on the court has benefitted him, as he has also been able to clinch matches for the Cougars. In his most noted performance in a match against Emory (Ga.), Engel preserved the win for the Cougars by recording a three-set win of 4-6, 6-3 and 7-5.

Playing against Holy Names on Saturday, March 22, Leahy and Engel were the Cougars’ first all-freshman pairing of the season. The duo grabbed a victory with an 8-4 win at No. 3. This win resulted in a doubles sweep for the men in their victory over the Hawks.

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Freshmen Alan Leahy has adjusted well to the college level of competition and has shown quick progress throughout the season. He currently holds an 8-10 record with a 5-8 record at the No. 3 spot. Photo credit: Kimberly Smith

Leahy played at No. 3 singles for most of the season and is 5-8 at that spot. He played at the No. 4 spot the last two matches and split the two matches, going 1-1. He accommodated to the new atmosphere of playing for a team for the first time in his career.

“I
t’s a completely different experience for me to have to know that my matches make a difference in whether the team wins or loses. That definitely adds a bit more pressure,” Leahy said.

Leahy joined the tennis team heavy in experience playing singles matches. According to Bohren, Leahy is a good teammate and it has been proven through the stats from his doubles matches.

Leahy has managed to maintain an 8-10 record in singles and 10-6 in doubles with three different teammates. He and junior Gary Yam, who is normally Leahy’s doubles partner, currently hold a 6-3 record at the No. 3 spot this season.

Bohren said that players reaching their best potential give the team an opportunity to win the championship.

“You still have to go through the whole season to kind of understand that you’re going play tough competition every day,” Bohren said.

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