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Women’s tennis prepares for NCAA’s

Tennis team's hard work pays off

Photo by Berni Bronsberg, Photography Editor

Ryan Hunt, Asst. Sports Editor

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All that stands in the way between the Golden Rams tennis team and their first trip to the NCAA tournament in over 30 years is a long 7-hour bus ride to Erie, Pa. And trust me, that can be the hardest part of the journey. What a long journey it has been for the West Chester University Women’s Tennis team. Since this senior class has stepped onto the courts, excellence has followed, but it didn’t happen overnight.

It took long hours on the court, both in-season and off. Time spent working out trying to improve fitness, along with their technique. It took experience, the kind that requires you to live with all the highs and lows of being a college athlete.

Their experience began as everyone’s does, as freshmen, coming from a place where they were the top dogs, but now they had to earn everything all over again. The first season, the team barely made it over the .500 mark. The team also continued its PSAC East champion- ship drought, falling short of Kutztown.

The year was not without positives though. Maddy Shaak, now the captain of the NCAA-bound Golden Rams took home the PSAC Freshman of the Year award. The honor put the rest of the division on notice. West Chester was gearing up for a statement, they just needed to warm up.

The next year, the Golden Rams we know today arrived to mark their territory. The 2014-2015 season, WCU grabbed that elusive PSAC East crown they had been without for some time, while compiling a 9-7 record and a perfect record in conference play. The season also marked the first full season where Shaak was paired with her doubles partner Claire Uhle. The pair would go on to shoot their way up the regional rankings as just sophomores to gain hold of the number nine slot in the Atlantic region.

The rest of the then sophomore class grew as well, as Abriana Nolan and Steph Cifarelli both moved their way up the ranks of the Golden Rams lineup. The team was able to make it to the PSAC tournament as a number one seed. However, they would meet the thorn in their side for the coming years. Indiana University of Pennsylvania dispatched the Golden Rams quickly, 5-0. The glory of a top seed was washed away with the pain of an embarrassing loss.

They used this loss as a building block on the foundation that they have been working on.

The very next season the team went back to work, reaping the rewards of their hard offseason training and practice. They added five more wins to their record in comparison to the previous campaign, going 14-7. The year was filled with numerous hon- ors divvied up to several Golden Rams. Shaak grabbed five Athlete of the Week honors, and Uhle took one of her own. By years end five WCU players were on the All-PSAC East Squad, including Shaak, Uhle, Nolan and underclassman Rylee Power.

The team continued to grow with each passing season, with every win and loss. All leading up to where they are now.

In the final season of their collegiate careers, the seniors put together one of the best seasons in the pro- grams history with a 14-3 record and a continuation of their PSAC perfection. The “Golden Gals” of Shaak, Uhle, Nolan and Cifarelli led the way again, alongside five time PSAC coach of the year Tina Tharp.

Shaak, a four time All-PSAC East selection, also snagged her second consecutive PSAC Athlete of the year award, after finishing out her senior campaign with her best performance yet. She went 15-4 in singles play, only dropping matches to regionally or nationally ranked opponents.

Her doubles partner fared well in the accolades department as well. Uhle, the all-time winningest player in WCU history with 55 wins, also grabbed All-PSAC East honors. An impressive feat for Uhle, who came on strong for the Golden Rams after redshirting her first year. She earned her place among the elite of Division II tennis.

All the awards, accomplishments, and achievements have culminated with the team’s first NCCA berth since 1983. They face a familiar face in the University of Charleston, who swept the Rams in Florida.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Shaak to get inside her head and see what she wanted out of this last sea- son. She responded “Individually, I want to go undefeated at my spot [in] singles and doubles… for the team, I want us to make it to the playoffs, and get an NCAA bid.” Mission accomplished.

They face their toughest challenge yet, but they have so much to play for. It was a long ride to get there, both in their bus and in their careers, and the last thing they want to do is to go out without the same fight they’ve shown to get to the mountaintop.

Ryan Hunt is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Women’s tennis prepares for NCAA’s