Over the past two seasons, the Stevenson University women's tennis team has made great strides. After not winning a match in head coach Even Clifton's first season in 2015-16, the Mustangs earned five victories a season ago. Now, with the core of last season back and a still relatively young roster, Clifton believes that this is the year his team can qualify for a MAC Commonwealth tournament spot, something the program has yet to achieve.
"We're definitely more confident this year," said Clifton. "On the women's side, the conference is so wide open, and even though we're young, I expect us to be in the middle of the pack."
Stevenson, which opens the spring portion of its schedule Saturday at Salisbury, returns the top four players from last season's lineup and five of its top six. Sophomore Jenna Skove finished 7-8 overall at No. 1 a season ago, including 4-3 in MAC Commonwealth play, and was a MAC Commonwealth Second Team All-Conference selection. Classmate Kelsi Mentzer, who played primarily at No. 3 last season, going 6-6, was also a Second Team choice by the league's coaches.
Skove and Mentzer also reached the No. 1 doubles finals at the MAC Individual Championships in October.
Junior Kirstyn Davidson finished 5-5 last season at No. 2 singles, including a 3-4 league mark, while junior Christina Endy had four wins. Sophomore Nina Bretz also returns after playing primarily at No. 6 singles last season.
The Mustangs also welcomed seven freshman and have one of the youngest rosters in the conference, with just four juniors and seniors and 11 underclassmen. Freshman Rebecca Connelly reached the semifinals at No. 7 singles at the MAC individual tourney. Classmate Megan Waskiewicz also went 2-2 in dual matches this fall.
After Saturday's match at Salisbury, the Mustangs will travel to Hilton Head, S.C. for three matches over Spring Break, facing Illinois Wesleyan, Marietta and Montreat. According to Clifton, it gives the team the chance to play teams they don't normally get to play and to learn new strategies, as well as develop team chemistry on such a long trip.
The Mustangs return home and are idle until April 3 when they open MAC Commonwealth play at Alvernia. The month of April is devoted almost exclusively to conference matches, though Stevenson will travel to Shenandoah on April 15 and host St. Mary's (Md.) on April 19.
The MAC Commonwealth Championship, which consists of four teams, opens with semifinal play on May 2, with the final on May 5.