The beginning of the 2014 season couldn’t have been much different for Oklahoma State’s men’s and women’s tennis teams.
A year removed from a 12-14 record, the Cowboys made program history with a 10-0 start and five wins against ranked opponents.
The Cowgirls, who entered the season with hype, struggled and were 4-5 through February.
The tables have turned, but the regular season is no more. The first serve of postseason play is only days away.
Friday begins play for both teams in the Big 12 Tennis Championships, which are held at TCU’s Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Cowboys get an early start at 9 a.m. against the No. 4 Texas Tech. The Cowboys fluctuated throughout the rankings and ended the season negatively with a third-straight loss that came against OU on Senior Day.
“We've got to learn how to deal with calls that don't go our way,” coach Jay Udwadia said. “Not getting the doubles point on Sunday really kind of deflated the team, and we have to learn how to recover from that.”
The last face-off between the Cowboys and Texas Tech was on April 11 and ended with a 5-2 win for the Red Raiders. The winner will face top-seed Baylor on Saturday.
The Cowgirls dropped four spots and sit at the No. 25 seat after a 4-3 loss to the Sooners. Despite the singles loss for Cowgirl Viktoriya Lushkova, her ranking increased, bumping her up eight spots to No. 44. She and her doubles partner, Kanyapat Narattana finished the season at No. 65. After Saturday’s match, coach Chris Young stressed how important it is that his team leave Norman with something.
“I think things kinda got away from us a little bit in the OU match,” Young said. “I felt like we had a lot of unforced errors and we beat ourselves, so that’s something we’ve focused on.”
The Cowgirls, winners of nine of their past 11 matches, will face the winner of Thursday’s match between seventh-seeded Kansas State and tenth seed West Virginia. OSU took home a 5-2 win over Kansas State and a sweep of West Virginia.
The Cowgirls have also bounced around the ITA Rankings during the 2014 season. The team has crossed several program milestones, including seven conference wins since 2007 and nine wins over ranked opponents.
“I think we’ve come a long way, especially since the end of the Blue Gray Tournament in the end of February when we were 4-5,” Young said. “We finished winning the nine of our 11 matches and really made a lot of improvement.
“I think at that point in time we lost five of our first nine matches, four of them were matches we thought we could have won, three of them we basically had match points; we were right there and ate all of our tiebreakers.”
Coaching staffs from both programs stressed throughout the season the improvements that were made and the changes that needed to be made to be successful. Staying focused and not being distracted by opponents was commonly preached, as well as taking things one match at a time.
“We lost some tough matches early and, with the exception of the last match, we’ve been able to pull out all the close matches,” Young said. “Our girls have come a long way mentally, and hopefully that’ll pay off in the postseason.”
The Cowgirls might be in the best position heading into Friday’s match in Fort Worth, but Udwadia said he thinks his team will bounce back.
"This team has improved in a lot of different ways, but I'm really proud of how our guys have been able to build up endurance and stay healthy this late in the year,” Udwadia said. “A huge part of being successful as a team has to do with the little things, like conditioning before and during the year to make sure you're in top physical shape.
“They’ve improved in a lot of ways, though, and I like the way we're looking heading into Big 12's and NCAA's."