Women’s Tennis Prepares for 2022 Campaign

Villanova womens tennis opens its season on Jan. 22 @Bucknell.

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Villanova women’s tennis opens its season on Jan. 22 @Bucknell.

Noah Swan, Staff Writer

The Big East title in women’s tennis has been shared by only three teams over the past eight years. Xavier and DePaul have dominated, winning seven of those eight, with St. John’s stealing one in 2015. So, what is the formula for success in women’s tennis? 

“I think it’s recruiting,” Villanova head coach Steve Reiniger responded. “It’s getting the right people in.”

As the Wildcats look ahead to their spring season, the only follow-up question is: Do they have the right people?

To answer that question, it is worth looking at the seniors, who are the leaders of the team. Annalise Klopfer leads the singles lineup and is coming off a 6-4 season. In only her second season as a Wildcat, the Navy transfer will look to build upon her singles success last year, while also adjusting to a new doubles partnership with fellow senior Emily Strande.

“To pick up where she left off last year,” Reiniger answered when asked about his expectations for Klopfer. “She was a great number one for us. Seeing her at practice right now, she hasn’t skipped a beat. In doubles, [my goal for her is] to try to nurture that new partnership, particularly at the beginning of the spring.”

Solidifying that doubles lineup has been a major focus for the team during the fall exhibitions. Reiniger trotted out 13 different doubles partnerships during the previous semester, and a reliance on seniors emerged from the experimentation. The senior duo will lead the lineup, and senior Sabina Grigorian will play alongside freshman Emma Brogan in the second position. The third position remains to be determined.

Brogan enters the season as the highest-ranking freshman in the lineup, following a successful fall season. The Georgia native racked up five wins with only one loss in the exhibitions, earning her the third position in the singles lineup moving into the spring. The travel from Georgia to Philadelphia may seem difficult, but that is nothing compared to Valieriia Kornieva’s trek to the Main Line from Ukraine.

“She gets along with everybody great,” Reiniger said of Kornieva. “She’s a fantastic addition. It’s nice to have some diversity in where she’s from. I think she fits in with Villanova perfectly. I think she’s getting much stronger day-by-day with the language. She’s really improved and loves Villanova.”

Kornieva may or may not break the lineup as she nurses an ongoing shoulder injury at the start of the season. The Wildcats expect heavy contributions from both ends of the age spectrum, with senior leaders and new freshmen alike populating the top of the lineup.

Rounding out the roster are the sophomores and juniors vying for match time while aiming to improve their games. The sophomores especially face a key period of growth within the developmental context of the high school to college transition. 

“As freshmen, they usually have a lot more to learn regarding doubles than singles,” Reiniger noted. “They have stuff to learn in singles but more in doubles because a lot of times good high school players are focused only on singles. Usually from freshman to sophomore, they make a jump in doubles.”

Doubles strategy and formation require both practice and studying beyond that of normal match training. Adding another teammate along with another opponent into the formula requires players to readjust their position and their shot choices. Communication becomes of the utmost importance, and this is the area of the game that the sophomores will look to improve upon the most.

The answer to the original question seems clear: There is no doubt the Wildcats have the right people. But what’s as important as that is the collective identity of the group. Any dissension within the team could ruin even the most talented of lineups. 

“Close-knit,” Reiniger said when describing his squad. “The seniors set the tone for the team. They’ll do dinners together. If I walk over to Bartley, I’ll probably see a couple of players sitting together eating lunch.”

From Dnipro, Ukraine to Centennial, Colorado to Bayamon, Puerto Rico to Milton, Georgia, each of the Wildcats found her way to the quiet suburbs at the heart of Philadelphia’s Main Line. Back-to-back Big East semifinal appearances have set the expectations, but the ‘Cats have more than enough to surpass that high bar.