Women’s tennis feels like ‘family’


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Sophomore tennis player Jennifer Mizikar returns a a serve during a match last season.

Keely Porter couldn’t be happier with her six-woman squad.

The head coach for the women’s tennis team said she didn’t expect the size of this year’s team, but she sees the advantages of it.

In its first two matches of the season, the team was not affected by size.

It beat Lindenwood University-Belleville 9-0 to open the spring portion of the 2015-16 season. In a quick turnaround, the team met Lindenwood University the next day and was narrowly defeated 4-5.

“It was nice to finally get to play. Our competition was what we expected,” Porter said. “We knew Lindenwood University-Belleville would be a little weaker and Lindenwood University would be a little more competitive.”

She said the team feels good after the first weekend and thinks the loss to Lindenwood had to do with early season nerves.

Sophomore Jennifer Mizikar said she never gets nervous before a match, but once it is under way, the nerves can hit.

“It’s just something individually, we have to take care of,” the management major said. “I have to work on my inner self.”

Mizikar said the weekend was great overall and she doesn’t believe anyone on the team is upset about the way the weekend ended.

“I think everyone on the team played their heart out,” she said. “No one quit. No one gave up.”

Mizikar said the team is close. Teammates cheer more for each other and there are no cliques within the group, especially since the group is small.

“We all love each other like we are family,” she said.

One disadvantage is if a player gets injured, there is no wiggle room for the team to replace them.

Mizikar said it has made the whole team more cautious and aware that it needs to take care of itself.

No team member can even get sick, Porter said.

The smaller team size did not effect the starting lineup. The six main players remain intact, including sophomore Kelsey Shipman, who quickly rose in the lineup.

Shipman moved from the number four and five positions last year to steadily playing in the number two spot for both doubles and singles competition.

She played the number one spot in a few matches this year, but senior captain Elizabeth Wilm moved back into the number one position to start the spring season.

Shipman said Wilm is more experienced and right now, especially as a sophomore, Shipman believes the number two position is good experience for the future when she may move to number one.

Porter said it has helped Shipman focus on a singular sport.

Shipman played eight sports all through middle school and when she got to high school, she still kept three.

She said she agrees one focus has helped her because with each sport comes different types of conditioning.

A singular sport helps with consistency, she said.

The decision to focus on tennis didn’t come until late in her high school career. She quit softball her junior year, but still played basketball and tennis.

Shipman realized if she continued to play basketball throughout college, she would have less time for herself and her winter would be nonexistent. She would play over winter break and it would cause her to miss holidays with her family.

Shipman looked at a college in Kentucky, but after advice from the coach there, she chose USI.

“He told me he didn’t think the school was good for me,” she said.

The coach told her to pick a school where she would also find happiness outside of athletics. She liked the university’s small size and said it had everything she wanted academically as well.

“(Porter) is great because she respects the fact that I take school very seriously,” Shipman said.

Porter said she takes each team member’s academic schedules into account when it comes to scheduling practices and workouts and, in some ways, practice opportunities have been limited.

Tennis clubs in town are busy this time of year. Porter said it can be hard to schedule court time when they need practice to start around 3 p.m. The team focuses more on conditioning with the rest of the season in mind.

“Our goal is to be playing our best conference tournament time,” Porter said. “We are not going to be burnt out.”

The Eagles’ home-court matches begin mid-March against other GLVC teams.

Porter said the league has expanded and improved, which means to succeed, the team needs to compete in the top half. She said the 2016 team will have tough competition, but the group pushes each other well in practice.

Porter said the team dynamic and comradery is a nice change from the team she experienced several years ago.

“(This team) is closer than any team I’ve ever had,” Porter said. “They really support each other.”