It was just over a year ago this week when Colt Gaston, in the midst of an early morning meal at Waffle House, broke the news to his team that he would continue to be its head coach. Athletic director Jim Sterk had removed the interim tag in front of Gaston’s title, giving the young coach control of a tennis program that was still finding its footing in the Southeastern Conference.
After a successful fall season, Gaston led the Tigers to a respectable 11-14 record during the 2017 spring season, which included many highs and lows like knocking off No. 17 Texas A&M as well as a 10-match losing streak. Now entering his second year, he will lead a much different roster into fall competition than the one he had just a year ago. Missouri not only lost experience in graduating seniors but also a prized freshman who was expected to lead the Tigers for years to come. Mizzou will begin the season this weekend at the UGA Invitational in Puerto Rico.
****Bea Machado Santos The Tigers’ captain since 2015, Bea Machado Santos was a member of the 2017 graduating class after regularly occupying the top spot in Missouri’s lineup last season. Santos leaves a gaping hole, having racked up 103 victories during her three years in a Tiger uniform, including 31 throughout her senior year alone. Santos did not travel far, however, as she will return to Missouri as a student coach.
****Tate Schroeder In August, Schroeder decided to transfer to Clemson University. Her absence is sure to be felt throughout the year. The No. 41 recruit in the 2016 class, Schroeder lived up to her ranking during her freshman year. She was nothing short of incredible for the Tigers, tallying 17 singles wins in her first year. The freshman provided much needed stability in the middle of the lineup and delivered her team almost automatic victories. In the same vein as Santos, Schroeder’s consistency will be hard for the Tigers to replace.
****Cassidy Spearman Spearman left the Tigers after graduating in 2017. She totaled 26 victories in her senior campaign. Despite some late-season struggles in singles play, Spearman was a constant within the Tigers’ doubles lineup. She is also returning to Missouri this year as a volunteer assistant coach.
****Ellie Wright Ellie Wright, a five-star recruit from Gainesville, Florida, comes to the Tigers as the No. 45 ranked player in the class of 2017. By joining Missouri, Wright continues her family’s legacy with the Tigers; her mother Cortney is a former Mizzou tennis player. Like Schroeder last season, Wright will be inserted into the lineup immediately, which will force her to make a quick transition to college competition.
****Serena Nash Sophomore Serena Nash joins the Tigers this year after transferring from the University of Oklahoma. Nash is immediately eligible and will begin competing in the fall season. The sophomore went 8-6 in singles competition during the 2016 fall season for the Sooners and should see significant playing time this year for the Tigers.
Missouri has a lot of work to do if it wants to take the next step as a program this year. Replacing the talent lost in the offseason will be a difficult task and will require heightened performances from returners and new faces alike. The Tigers will rely heavily on senior Amina Ismail, who led the team with 32 wins during the 2016-17 season. Sophomore Mackenzy Middlebrooks will also take on a much larger role on the team this year. Middlebrooks went 9-5 in singles during the spring season, including several wins against ranked opponents. The fall season will provide valuable experience as the team searches for their new roles.
The Tigers will play in front of their home crowd one time during the season at the Mizzou Invitational beginning on Sept. 21. Missouri will take on former Big 12 rival Kansas at the ITA Central Regional beginning Oct. 20 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Edited by Eli Lederman | email@example.com