ISU women’s tennis features experienced team

Jeff Stell

ISU women’s tennis coach Michele Conlon points out that even though the spring tennis season is considered more important, there’s still plenty of advantages to playing in the fall. The Cyclones started fall practice this week and play in their first tournament in two weeks at the St. Louis University Fall Classic. Over the next weeks, Conlon will be working on getting his team in top shape. “This fall, we’ll be focusing in on conditioning. We’re going to emphasize that a little bit more and get them in great shape. We’ll be able to focus more on individual progress and needs. There tends to be a little more focus on technique in the fall and we’re going to do everything we can to prepare for the spring season,” Conlon said. The fall season consists of three tournaments. After the stop in St. Louis, the Cyclones play at the Drake Tournament in October and an NCAA regional in Omaha in early November. Although the season is short, Conlon likes the concept of having a fall season for her players to sharpen their skills. “I think the fall season is important for development of the players and getting in some match experience. There will be several matches played at the tournaments so we’ll get a lot of match play in. It’s critical for the players’ games to develop so we’re where we want to be when January hits,” Conlon said. One strength for the Cyclones will be experience as eight players return from last year’s squad. The only player lost to graduation was Kendra Leese. Noortje Cornelissen, Edna Vazquez, Kristin Gyaki, Tara Goedjen and Courtney Leese all saw time in the varsity lineup last season. “I think that the experience we have as a team will definitely benefit us this year. We have a lot of juniors and sophomores on the team now so everybody has really had at least one year of Big 12 competition. I think the experience will help us down the road,” Conlon said. Conlon isn’t concerned about who is going to play where in the lineup. “What I’d like to do as a coach at the beginning of the year is to place high expectations on everybody and keep a very open mind to who’s going to play what number on the team. I think we have a lot of good athletes on this team that are ambitious,” Conlon said. Cornelissen played No. 1 singles last year and is preparing for that challenge again. Cornelissen spent the summer playing on clay courts in her native Holland, and will have to get used to playing on the quicker hard courts in the United States. “I played a lot of practice matches this summer but it was on clay courts which is a different style of play than hard courts. Hard courts play quicker and I need to work on physically being able to be there every shot and not fall back behind the baseline. I need to be one second faster,” Cornelissen said. “I like the fall season, it’s a nice start. Two weeks from now, we’re already playing matches and that’s a little bit quick so it does bring you right back into it and you have to be focused.” Vazquez played at No. 2 in singles last season and likes the experience the Cyclones have returning and the solid team unity. “I think the experience means good things, it’ll be an advantage. I think we have the best team relations of the teams in the big 12, we all get along well and support each other,” Vazquez said. Conlon recognizes that the Cyclones will need to replace Kendra Leese. Leese did use up her eligibility last season but returns to the team as an assistant coach this year. “Anytime you have somebody of Kendra’s caliber around the program, when they leave, you’re certainly going to miss that person. Kendra is still going to be around in a coaching capacity and that will be a tremendous asset to our program. I think the girls are going step up and fill that leadership Kendra had last year and make things happen,” Conlon said. Vazquez has played alongside Leese for two years and likes the new addition to the coaching staff. “Last year, she was the only senior and she kept us balanced and together. She was a good leader and I’ll miss her a lot as a player. She gives good strategies so she’ll help a lot,” Vazquez said.