The 2016 Idaho State women’s tennis team features nine fresh faces, a 100 percent turnover, requiring head coach Gretchen Maloney to recruit an all-new cast of players.
Six teammates graduated in 2016, as expected, and the two remaining members decided this spring to pursue other opportunities.
Nonie Alexandersen returned home to Denmark, while McKelle Sanders transferred to Dixie State. With the six graduated seniors and the two transfers, Maloney was left with no one. All her players left and she was forced back to the drawing board.
“Nine new freshmen is a completely blank slate,” said player Angela Walker, who is from Vancouver, Canada. “We all get to join together and just see how it works out, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”
That blank slate has prompted Maloney to adapt her coaching approach, shifting her focus to teaching and preparing players who have never competed at the college level.
She said she must instruct the team on drills and her practice system, as well as tournaments and travel expectations.
“I have a lot more work to do,” Maloney said. “I feel like I’m probably teaching a little bit more than just running the team. There’s a bigger learning curve for sure.”
Despite this, Maloney is optimistic about the team’s future. With potentially five individual tournaments scheduled for the fall season, Maloney says the real test begins in the spring season where the team plays dual matches and team-building pays off.
Maloney’s goal is to make the top six in conference and she said the team has enough talent to weather the transition and meet that goal.
“It’s exciting that we’re nine freshmen, because I think we have a good chance to really bond and do really well in our conference,” said Walker. “If we’re top six this year, then by the time we’re seniors we might be able to win it.”
Bonding has been a crucial part of building this year’s team according to Maloney, who organized a team retreat in Star Valley, Wyoming in September. Players went to Grand Teton National Park, participated in team-building games and created vision boards that displayed hopes for their futures.
Teammates have quickly become close, said Louise-Mare Botes, a South African native.
“We all got into this together,” Botes said. “Without having to go look for friends, you can have nine sisters and friends.”
Botes’ biological sister, Huibre, is also on the team. The twins jumped at the chance to play at the same school, Botes said.
Time and practice is easing the transition for an all-new team, said Maloney.
“I feel like we’re starting to come together as a team,” she said. “Even just their transition from their first matches at our invite two weeks ago [to] the Utah State invite this past weekend, they started feeling like they could breathe a little bit.”