When the Valparaiso University women’s tennis team delivers the first serve of the spring season on Saturday at Western Michigan, the Crusaders will do so with a group that has remained entirely intact from last year.
Valpo brought back all seven members from last year’s team in addition to adding two freshmen to the mix. A team with an additional year of experience enters the new campaign with its sights set on an appearance in the Horizon League Championships.
Tammy Cecchini is back for her second season as head coach and is assisted by former Valpo men’s tennis player Danny Oakes. Cecchini wants to do everything she can to make it a successful final go-around for seniors Kathleen Hebble (Sellersburg, Ind. / Silver Creek), Paige Heuer (Munster, Ind. / Munster) and Morgan Paras (Indianapolis, Ind. / Bishop Chatard).
“I’m going to miss the seniors after this year,” Cecchini said. “They’ve been such a great influence as role models and they’re such a big part of what makes the team who they are. They’ve taught me what this team is all about and what Valpo represents. I’ve continued to recruit those types of people. They’re intelligent, athletic and have good hearts.”
Hebble has two years of eligibility remaining, but will depart a year early as she is set to complete her degree in biology in only three years.
After a string of eight indoor matches in the Midwest to start the season, the Crusaders travel to California to play California Lutheran and California-Riverside for their spring trip.
“That’s going to be a fun one,” Cecchini said. “Dao (Sysouvanh), our freshman, has never been on an airplane. Several of my players have never been to California. My mom lives out there, so I’m very familiar with the area. I’m happy to be able to bring the girls out there and show them a place I’m very comfortable with.”
The Crusaders saw an uptick in team and individual success during the fall season, leading to boosted belief entering the spring. Randi Wind (Park Ridge, Ill. / Maine South) came into her sophomore year with increased confidence in her strategy, which paid dividends on the court during the fall.
Paras is another player who has made noteworthy improvements since last season.
“She’s a grinder, she’ll be out there for hours,” Cecchini said. “That’s tough to be out there and hit 100 balls in a row, but that’s her game. After she had won one of her matches, I asked her what has changed since her sophomore year. She said every time she steps up the line to start a point, she’ll tell herself, ‘I’m going to win this point.’ That story really struck a chord with the team and their confidence. They have to believe in themselves and they can win these matches.”
Extra Tidbits: The Crusaders travel to Kalamazoo, Mich. to face off with Western Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 4 p.m. before hosting DePaul on Saturday, Jan. 21 at the Courts of Northwest Indiana in the home opener. The Horizon League season begins on March 25 at Youngstown State… Valpo recently announced the signing of Jelena Vujanic (Elk Grove Village, Ill. / Elk Grove) and Claire Czerwonka (Saint Joseph Catholic Academy / Kenosha, Wis.), who will join the program as freshmen next fall. Both are four-star recruits, according to tennisrecruiting.net.