Young tennis team gains experience in trying season

As the men’s and women’s tennis season comes to a close, the Hawks reflected on the past three months as a new team under first-year head coach Brandon Ellis and assistant coach Edmund Carter.

Though the men had a 2-7 record and the women went 0-11, the teams were successful in developing a team culture, building a foundation of players’ tennis skills and gaining experience competing against tough teams.

“We’re a young program, so that’s something we’re looking at – building a foundation and then growing for the future,” said Ellis. “But in terms of this season, it’s been a fun challenge.”

Progress is evident in Corinne Hand and Yasmin Elsayed’s ability to hold their own against opponents. Both joined the Hawks this season with no experience in tennis, but after only three months they were rallying for points.

“Our mentality has improved a lot,” said Hand. “I think we had a tough season but we stuck with it, and so we’ve toughened up.”

Many players said that they improved both physically and mentally. They became more confident and comfortable facing tougher opponents, seizing the opportunity to learn from teammates, coaches and competitors alike.

But improvement didn’t just come overnight. The Hawks have worked hard to make noticeable progress.

Quinn Dobbins and Kevin Thai, a redshirt for the men’s team this season, could often be found on the court two hours before practice officially began.

“The athletes have become more responsible for their own game, and more independent,” Ellis said.

Abiel Lacandazon said his progress this season has only made him realize how much more he can still learn.

“With tennis, I’ve learned that hard work pays off even if you don’t see it,” said Lacandazon. “I think overall our skill level has improved, we’re definitely different tennis players compared to the fall semester.”

Players faced challenges together, bonding in practice while learning more about each other over post-match meals, said Aston Wong, who is redshirting this season.

“At the beginning, I would say that the atmosphere was pretty loose,” Wong said. “But as the weeks went by people got more focused and overall they just tried to focus on their game and improve, which you can really see now.”

One lesson the young team learned this season was the importance of balancing tennis and school work.

“There’s been some hiccups and some stumbles along the way,” Ellis said. “But I always try to use those moments as lessons, because I always emphasize the fact that your grades are really going to stick with you forever. Academically, they’ve matured as well.”

The student-athletes will soon return to their classes full-time as the season wraps up, but they’ll still have a chance to play quality tennis.

A few players qualified for the California State Community College Team Championships that will be held April 20-24.

Men’s doubles Yashneel Krishna, Stephen Albert, Abiel Lacandazon and Joshua Frazier and women’s doubles Taylor Galya and Clarence Fernandez qualified at the Big 8 South Conference Tournament that was held March 31-April 2. Galya also qualified in singles as the only freshman among four semi-finalists.

“A lot of those doubles matches [at the conference match], they were come from behind, so that’s expressive to me of being able to overcome challenges within a match,” said Ellis. “I think that’s a sign of maturity in terms of their match experience.”

Ellis said he is looking forward to seeing the sophomores mentor new players, and believes that having more players will establish an environment of healthy competition.

This summer Ellis and Carter will work on recruiting players who are academically-focused, enthusiastic about tennis and can contribute positively to the team.

Players are looking forward to winning and improving their game in the supportive, positive atmosphere in the fall.

The Hawks can now set high expectations for next season after building a foundation this season.

Lacandazon summed up this season simply: “Overall, it’s just been a great experience.”