The women’s tennis team, now several weeks into Conference Play, is pushing the game courts from the enclosed space of Haas Athletic Center to the outdoor Clark Tennis Fields, located nearby Sidell Stadium, Wheaton’s baseball field.
The Lyons are off to a 4-7 overall start and are 2-3 in Conference Play. “It’s been a solid start to the season,” said head coach Pauri Pandian, in his fourth year with the Lyons. “We had a nice win against Mount Holyoke the other day, and that’s a team we’ve been very competitive with for the last few years, so it was a good win, and now we gotta keep plugging away here.”
The Lyons play in a highly competitive conference, with the Lyons last winning the title in 2009-10. Recently, the Lyons have been middle of the pack, unable yet to break through against top against teams like MIT, who they lost to 8-1 this past Tuesday.
However, the team does not let the results of their matches dominate their thoughts, explained Pandian. “We try to stay very process oriented throughout our training, so our goal is to just continue to make improvements every day on the court, and I think when we do that, our results will take care of themselves.” Under this approach, the team has continually improved throughout Pandian’s tenure, and he plans to press forward with it. “I don’t think there is a ceiling on how good we can be,” Pandian said. “But to focus on results is kind of antithetical to the approach we take day to day in practice.”
When it comes to training, the team focuses on tactics, decision making, and developing players to be the most consistent version of themselves that they can be. “You don’t need to have perfect mechanics to win a conference title…” Pandian explained, “but you do need to be able to execute each shot at a very high level and at a very consistent manner.” While the team is together for about 19 weeks throughout the school year, it takes a long time for technical changes to stick, and so the team has to be very intentional in which areas are emphasized in practice.
“Tennis is a sport where you need to be proficient at everything,” said Pandian. “If you have a specific weakness, opposing players and coaches are gonna find it. It’s really tough to hide weaknesses on the tennis court, so on our end, we try to target all the different areas of the game: that’s not just physical execution, but also tactical approaches and emotional management during matches.”
In singles, the team is focused on being consistent from the baseline, working to earn opportunities to play offense. For doubles, the Lyons take an aggressive stance, looking for chances to get two players up at net, instead of keeping the usual one up, one down system.
“Ultimately, every single year is gonna be different,” explained Pandian, “even with the fact that you are carrying players over year to year, players are gonna evolve and change, and I need to be evolving and changing right alongside them in order to help them become the best players they can be.” In the past year, the Lyons brought in three first-years, bringing the roster up to 12.
“They’ve been awesome additions to the team,” said Pandian, “both in terms of what they have been able to contribute on the court, and also in terms of adding to the team culture. Everyone’s on the same page, everyone knows what we are trying to accomplish, and how to go about our business, so they fit in quite well.”