A New Era In Iowa Women's Tennis

April 7, 2010

IOWA CITY, IA – The University of Iowa women’s tennis team may not have been sure what to expect when Katie Dougherty took the head post in November, but once the Wisconsin graduate arrived on campus, the team never looked back.

Before the season, the women’s tennis team set two goals: to be one of the top four teams in the Big Ten Conference and to be in the top 40 in the nation. Check. Check.

Iowa, 13-3, has been ranked as high as 18th by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and is currently in fourth place in the Big Ten standings with a 3-2 record in league play. En route to the highest ranking an Iowa team has ever achieved, the Hawkeyes defeated five ranked teams, including No. 44 Princeton (4-3), No. 24 DePaul (4-3), No. 68 Wichita State (6-1), No. 33 Tulsa (4-3) and No. 25 Ohio State (6-1).

“Success breeds more success,” Dougherty said about her team’s accomplishments this year. “It gives the players more confidence and makes them believe that all the hard work we have put in is paying off. It has helped us have better practices and our expectations keep rising.”

While the wins are sweet, the players have not let their recent triumphs blur their vision because they know they have important matches in the near future. Dougherty instills in her players the importance of work ethic and preparation and the team knows it has not gotten to where it is without those things. The athletes have put in long training hours, and the coaches aren’t going to let them relax now.

“We’ve had success,” Assistant Coach Chris Lueth said. “But you don’t change your base when you have success, you keep doing the things that got you there. Katie (Dougherty) has done a really good job of keeping the girls grounded and making sure they know that every time they go out there they need to keep working hard. That is what has gotten them to this place, and that is what we want to continue doing throughout the season.”

The members of the team have all pushed each other in order to be as prepared as possible when facing tough opponents, something that happens often as Iowa has already faced eight ranked opponents in 16 matches. The schedule shows no sign of relaxing as the Big Ten Conference boasts seven teams in the top 75.

“We do drills and situational things in practice to keep it as match-like as possible,” senior Kelcie Klockenga explains. “We want to make sure we are ready, so we do things like practice at night under the lights before night matches, and when we were getting ready for California, we played with long sleeves to get used to the heat.”

Although the tough practices are beneficial to the athletes, the wins haven’t hurt either. The fierce competition has brought significant challenges to the Iowa athletes, but they have not been deterred.

“It is always good to have strong competition prior to the Big Ten season,” said junior Lynne Poggensee-Wei. “The wins have definitely built our confidence going into conference play. Last year, we were a little shaky, and this year we definitely feel like we can go in and compete with those teams. We feel like we have a shot in every match that we play.”

It seems the combination of coaches and players is just right this year for the Hawkeyes. Sophomore Sonja Molnar, currently 55th, has been ranked individually for the entire season, and has earned two conference player of the week nods. Senior Merel Beelen teams with Molnar in doubles play. The duo has quickly propelled to the 15th spot in the national rankings. Alexis Dorr started the season with a six-match win streak and each of the players have won in a tie-break situation.

The team has put together two different five-match win streaks this season, and the doubles teams have won eight of the last nine doubles point. A factor that has been key in Iowa’s close wins. The players have noticed the impact the coaching staff and practices have had on their games.

“She (Dougherty) is a great coach,” junior Jessica Young says. “She is really hands on. She is really calm on the court, but she brings that certain intensity that gives you confidence. She is hard on us. She expects a lot from us, and we have a lot of responsibility to our team and to ourselves. She really makes us accountable for everything. It is a really big factor in our success and why we are top in the country.”

With the end of the regular season nearing, the players have focused on conference play. The Big Ten is stacked top to bottom with tough competition. The team has five matches left before it hosts the conference tournament (April 29-May 2) and the players have one goal in mind. Win.

“I think a lot of it is who wants it the most,” Molnar said. “All college players are really good, and basically it comes down to who wants to win that little bit extra and that is usually who is going to get it.”