Sports, Tennis

Notebook: A season-long focus on mental toughness propels women’s tennis into national rankings

With a roster that boasts strong depth, the Boston University women’s tennis team is once again on a hot streak. Here are some of the major headlines going into the final stretch of the season and into the postseason.

A tennis player.
A tennis player. Going into the postseason, the women’s tennis Terriers are on a hot streak. COURTESY OF JOHN FORNANDER VIA UNSPLASH

Finally Recognized 

For the first time since 2011, BU is ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Top 75. Ranked no. 70 as of Monday, the Terriers’ win that earned them national recognition was an upset against then-ranked No. 49 Brown University March 18.

“That was a really amazing win, and I think that really kick-started a really successful season for us so far,” graduate student Shelly Yaloz said.

BU head coach Lesley Sheehan said she was impressed with how her team bounced back in the matchup with the Bears.

“That was actually a really exciting match because it was such a battle,” she said. “Grabbing the four singles [points] after losing the doubles point was really big for us.”

The Terriers’ triumph over Brown was BU’s first win against a ranked opponent since 2013 and their highest ranked win since 2007.

California Dreaming

Over spring break, BU traveled to California for matches against California State University, Northridge, California State University, Fullerton and California State University, Long Beach. Despite losing against CSUN that first match in the Golden State set in motion a growing level of confidence that translated to wins in the next two matches. 

“We played our first match against [CSUN], and I think we all came off saying, ‘wow, we haven’t been outside yet,” Sheehan said. “They’re playing on their home court, and we almost beat them.”

Yaloz said she was excited for the trip for both athletic and off-the-court reasons. Having played out in the elements throughout high school, Yaloz said she enjoys any chance she gets to play outdoors. 

“Before college, I played during my high school years in Florida, so whenever I play outside, I’m really happy,” Yaloz said.

She also said the trip was essential for team bonding.

“We got so much closer [after] going on a seven-day trip, staying at a hotel, not really having to do schoolwork, having the beach in our backyard,” Yaloz said. “The team really bonded, and that was a really big factor to our amazing wins outside.”

We Talking About Practice?

For the Terriers, a regular emphasis on mental toughness and adaptability has led to a strong season. 

While the fall season focuses more on individual skill work, come spring there is a new emphasis on situational tennis and the mental side of the game.

“In the fall, it’s a lot of individual work,” Sheehan said. “[In the spring,] we get into different scenarios in practice, ‘OK, this is what’s happening in your match.’ Today, since we had 12 players, we did a mock match.” 

Yaloz, who has had tremendous success in both singles and doubles matches, said practicing the mental game helped her improve as a player.

“We’ve grown a lot of self-awareness,” she said. “We’ve definitely expanded our mental toolkit in terms of when we’re at practice or when we’re in a match, and we’re feeling anxious, angry, nervous or any other emotions. We know certain strategies on what to do in those moments.”

More specifically, Yaloz credits mental coaching with helping the team better understand their individual strengths and weaknesses and how to best utilize them. Yaloz said the players regularly meet with a mental coach, who has been “amazing” for the team. 

Additionally, despite tennis being more of an individual sport, mental coaching has helped teach the Terriers how to better support each other during matches.

“It’s really good to share how we feel in certain situations so that people on the outside know how to help people when it comes to practice or when it comes to a match,” Yaloz said. “[They know] what exactly they can do to help their mental game, either pump them up or calm them down if they’re nervous.”

Beat Army & Navy

The Terriers are joined by the United States Military Academy and United States Naval Academy atop the Patriot League standings. With just four matches left in the regular season, BU is scheduled to play both before the postseason begins.

The discipline and depth of the service academies make them tough competitors on the court. 

“When we play them, we come in thinking, ‘they are very physically fit and they’re very mentally strong,’” Yaloz said. “So we have a lot of work to do to match that or try and be better than they are, trying to outsmart them on the court. That’s why we’ve been doing a lot of intense practices.”

Since their matchup against Brown, the Terriers have claimed two more victories with a 5-2 win against Yale University and a 7-0 sweep against the University of Connecticut, putting them on a three match win streak as they prepare for their showdown against Army.

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