IUPUI Women's Tennis: The Past is Behind, A New Era is Ahead

<p>Samantha Hayward and Meghan Bernard at the IUPUI Fall Invitational | Courtesy: IUPUI Athletics</p>

Samantha Hayward and Meghan Bernard at the IUPUI Fall Invitational | Courtesy: IUPUI Athletics

As the IUPUI women's tennis team fell 2-5 in their last match of 2022 vs Northern Kentucky, there seemed to be hope for the season ahead. After two players were kicked off the team, their coach unexpectedly fired mid-season and another player missed significant time due to injury, any team would have had difficulty recovering and scraping together a successful season.

The IUPUI women's tennis team has not performed well over the last few seasons due to inconsistent coaching, injuries to players, and lack of good facilities, however, hope is on the horizon for this team of young players and veterans to guide them. 

The past of the IUPUI women's tennis has not been pretty. The team has had fifteen consecutive losing seasons, which is the longest current streak without a winning season of all IUPUI sports teams. With the men’s soccer team snapping their eleven-season losing streak this past fall, only the men’s basketball and women’s tennis teams have had losing season streaks of more than seven seasons. 

Last Winning Season for IUPUI Sports

Each circle represents the year that each IUPUI sports team last had a winning season. Women's tennis has not had a winning season since 2007. Data Collected from IUPUI Athletics.

In 2022, the women's team struggled with lineup inconsistencies and lacked a crucial sixth player on their team. This became problematic as six players are needed to fill all the singles spots in the lineup. In college tennis, the result is determined by best-of-7 points. One point is up for grabs to the winner of a best-of-3 doubles game. The remaining six points are given to the winners of the six singles matches that follow. In essence, without a sixth singles player, IUPUI started in a 0-1 hole in most of their matches. 

To make matters worse, their coach, Jason Suscha, resigned from his position mid-season. All of these events became a major distraction to the remaining players who had to rally behind an interim head coach.  In the last nine years, five different head coaches have coached for this team, raising questions as to why coaches have had such a high turnover rate in the last decade. 

The IUPUI women's tennis team once had an indoor tennis facility until 2010, but it was destroyed to make room for new parking facilities and an expansion of the NCAA headquarters. Now, the women's team plays at West Indy Racquet Club, which is a 12-minute drive off of  IUPUI campus, where most players live nearby, making it a large inconvenience to get to practice every day, especially for players with no car. It also hinders fans from getting to the game since they have to commute to watch the women's team play. IUPUI has recently added outdoor courts, which is great for when the weather is good enough to play outdoors, but women’s tennis season is a spring sport, with few quality days to play outdoors. 

IUPUI hired a new coach, Pawel Gajdzik, who has over thirteen years of experience coaching the Purdue men’s tennis team. During Gajdzik’s time at Purdue, he brought Purdue to their first NCAA tournament in 12 years and earned their biggest upset with a 6-1 win over No. 16 Penn State. With Gajdzik, IUPUI hopes to achieve the necessary stability they need from the coaching staff to allow their underclassmen to grow as players. 

After being named head coach, in a statement on the IUPUI Jaguars website, Gajdzik shared his excitement about his new role.  

“My family and I are thrilled to join the Indianapolis community and I'm looking forward to elevating the program to new and exciting heights in a new era for Jaguar Athletics," Gajdzik said.

The women's tennis team has three promising freshmen, Emma Dell, Grace Lampman, and Sofia Castillo, join the ranks alongside four returning seniors and graduate students. One of their notable upper-class women returning is Meghan Bernard, who had a strong 3-3 record in Horizon League play at No. 2 Singles, and also was recognized as a member of the Horizon League All-Academic team. Additionally, Samantha Hayward, who finished the season 5-4 in her final nine completed doubles matches with Meghan Bernard. The women's team as a whole also has the highest GPA across all IUPUI sports in 2022, with a 3.74 cumulative GPA. Additionally, on December 19, 2022, IUPUI announced that Makenzie Myers, former #1 in Indiana recruiting rankings would join the team in January. Mackenzie competed at Miami (OH) for four years from 2017-2021

While the season does not officially begin until the end of January and their first match is Saturday, January 21 at Ball State, this team played its first matches in the IUPUI Fall Invitational in September. In this invitational, Meghan Bernard and Samantha Hayward earned All-Tournament honors with a 2-1 record in both singles and doubles. 

The future of IUPUI women’s tennis is looking bright, with a new coach that has had past success, young players that are talented, and a group of highly experienced veterans to help the team grow.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that coach Jason Suscha was fired mid--season. This statement was false, and The Campus Citizen regrets this error.

Nathan Ensley is a freshman majoring in Informatics at IUPUI. He is a writer and photographer who covers campus and sports for The Campus Citizen.

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