Freshman Tate Schroeder always wanted to play in the SEC.
“I love the team and just pictured myself really fighting for this school,” the Missouri tennis freshman said.
She kept it simple when discussing her decision to join the team back in 2016.
Schroeder, then the No. 44 player in the 2016 recruiting class, was a dynamic addition to a team that finished 11th in the Southeastern Conference and was under the new leadership of first-year head coach Colt Gaston.
The transition from high school to college can be daunting for anyone. Add the pressure and commitment of competing in Division I athletics, and that task can become even more strenuous.
“There are so many differences,” Schroeder said. “Every day is constantly a grind and you’re always having to push yourself to be the best possible teammate, the best academics possible and the best athlete that can, and if you think you're giving enough, it's probably not enough, so you have to give even more than you have.”
On the court, Schroeder has been extraordinary during her freshman campaign, posting a 13-6 singles record in the the spring season, including two separate five-match win streaks.
What has allowed Schroeder to be so successful in making the transition to Division I college tennis? She credits her teammates.
“I think that my team has really helped me just really hit the bars every day in practice and just really focus on the little things, and the little things make a difference in the end,” she said.
Schroeder’s unrelenting will to succeed is often visible to match attendees. Her fiery personality on match days not only helps elevate her personal play but also the play of her teammates competing on either side of her.
Perhaps the greatest example of this came in the Tigers’ early-season victory against then No. 17 Texas A&M. During the match, Schroeder was narrowly edged out in a first-set tiebreak and was trailing 4-0 in the second before rattling off wins in 11 of the final 12 games to clinch a critical match for her team.
Coach Gaston saw the match as a stepping stone for not only the team, but the program as a whole.
“I think that this is the match where I know I can go back to and talk to the team and we can stop talking about being [just] close,” Gaston said. “We can stop talking about all the other things that have held onto us, from taking this program and running with it.”
Schroeder’s play this year has provided the Tigers with a stabilizing force in the middle of their lineup. Schroeder has handled the No. 3 position for the majority of the season, and her ability to collect wins on a consistent basis despite the fluctuating skill level of her opponents has developed into a decisive trend that has been crucial to the Tigers’ success.
What should come as a concern to SEC foes in the coming years, coaches and athletes alike, is the immense improvement Schroeder showed throughout the fall and spring seasons. With her dominant play, Schroeder has worked her way into the No. 2 position in the lineup in the latter part of the season and has achieved just as much success.
“Tate’s been stepping up this year, and, I mean, her record’s kind of proven itself, and I think it was her time,” Gaston said. “She’s young and she’s coming up, and I think it’s a good time for her to kind of get a feel for that top spot. It's somewhere I see her progressing in years to come.”
Schroeder concedes mental improvement on the court has transformed her play on the court.
“Definitely trusting my strategy and my instincts,” she said. “Before, I was bad on certain disciplinary shots, but now I’m just trusting my game and I know where to hit when I’m on certain parts of the court.”
Already playing at a high level, she has set lofty goals for herself that she wants to achieve before her time on the court comes to an end.
“Individually, I want to be an All-American, and I want to do something special for Mizzou,” she said.
In order to achieve her goals, Schroeder has made an effort to soak up all the knowledge from two of her most experienced teammates, seniors Bea Machado Santos and Cassidy Spearman.
“I mean, Cass and Bea honestly give me so much advice on a daily basis,” Schroeder said. “If I’m having a tough day then they say all the positive things that I’ve done in the day. They just really try to build everyone up as much as possible, and Bea has really helped me with figuring out how to be a top player in the SEC. And same with Cass. I mean, Cass works so hard and pushes me so much in practice.”
As Missouri moves into postseason play, beginning with the SEC tournament this week, Schroeder still sees plenty of opportunities for success left in the season.
“It is going to be an uphill climb,” she said. “I mean, we have come so close this season and we’re tired of being close and so we’re really excited for the rest of the season because I know we're going to do special things.”
As her phenomenal freshman season comes to a close, Schroeder recognizes the position she will be in next year as she welcomes in the freshman class as her role on the team progresses.
“I just really want to be a leader on the team and really help the newcomers get settled in and let them know our culture, what our culture is all about and what ‘one way’ really means, so it's really exciting,” Schroeder said.
“One way” is a phrase Gaston has instilled in his team from the moment he assumed his position as head coach.
“When you're on the court, there's only one way to go at it: 100 percent,” Gaston said. “Since I've been here, I've heard a lot of people talking about Mizzou Made and I love that kind of stuff. It all goes together. There's one way to do it and that's working harder than everyone else. You don't train average. You go above and beyond."
Schroeder has certainly bought into Gaston’s “one way” philosophy, and with her competing in a Tigers uniform for the foreseeable future, there is only one direction the Missouri women’s tennis team will go: up.
Edited by Eli Lederman | email@example.com