IOWA CITY, Iowa — Sasha Schmid has enjoyed playing the meet-and-greet game since being named head coach of the University of Iowa women’s tennis team almost two months ago. But now it’s time to really get to know her team.
The Hawkeyes open the 2016 fall season and Schmid era at the Gopher Invitational in Minneapolis beginning Thursday and concluding Sunday. All 10 Hawkeyes are competing at varying levels of singles and doubles tournaments, and Schmid is ready to see a variety of new personalities.
“I want to see them have courage and step up and play boldly when we’re playing somebody else,” said Schmid, a former UI letterwinner who returns to her alma mater after 15 years of coaching at Stetson and Missouri. “I’ve enjoyed watching them progress over practice, but you can’t really get a sense of them until you see them compete.”
Nine of Iowa’s 10 players are returning letterwinners, so playing experience is not a question. Playing in front of a new head coach, however, creates uncertainty on both sides.
“It is important to establish a relationship with on-court coaching,” said Schmid. “It is going to be fun for me to be on the court with them and battle with them through the matches. I’m looking forward to that most of all.”
The Hawkeyes have opened the fall season at the Gopher Invite in four of the last five years, and they’ve experienced some level of success every time. Sonja Molnar and Annette Dohanics won singles titles in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Molnar and Shelby Talcott won a doubles title in 2011, and Morven McCulloch and Ruth Seaborne reached the doubles finals in 2013.
Iowa did not play at the Gopher Invite in 2015, but the last time they were there, junior Montana Crawford won the Gold Flight singles bracket with a 4-0 record as a freshman.
Schmid will welcome similar results in 2016, but she is looking beyond wins when reviewing her team for the first time. As part of the collaborative effort to get to know the team, she has asked every player to make a self-reflective list stating where they need to improve.
“We are going to see wins and losses, but more than that, I’m going to be proud if we go out and work on that list,” Schmid said. “We are trying to improve and take our game to the next level, not just getting through the match and getting by with a win, but actually try to get better.
“It’s a long season. It’s September and we have a long way to go until we get to March and the Big Ten Conference. We just have to keep the process in mind and keep trying to get better.”
Schmid is also putting a focus on conditioning, encouraging her players to learn from uncomfortable and stressful positions, both mentally and physically.
“We have focused on that more than anything,” Schmid said. “We have to be excellent in conditioning. I’ve seen them make a ton of strides, but we can’t take our foot off the gas on that. We have to continue to make it a priority.”