Traits and tendencies have defined Missouri women's tennis’ hot start

The Tigers have opened the season with an impressive 9-3 record.
Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics Mizzou Athletics

Missouri women’s tennis is at the midpoint of its season, and the team is touting a 9-3 record as it heads into the heart of Southeastern Conference competition. Under first-year head coach Colt Gaston, the Tigers have developed several distinct strong points that have led to their .750 win percentage through the first half of the season.

Doubles Play

Each tennis match begins with best-of-three doubles matches, with the winning team earning a single point toward the overall match score. It is a vital point that is often the deciding factor in the overall winner. Gaston has placed major emphasis on doubles competition, and it has paid great dividends for the team.

The Tigers are 9-3 in doubles play, an exact replica of the team's overall record. The record includes a streak of seven straight doubles victories. In a post-match interview, Gaston talked about how the team’s practice habits are translating to match results.

“To work on doubles two or three times in the week, I think other teams probably don’t do that,” Gaston said. “I think it's helped us know strategies, how to stay consistent, how to win the big points.”

Dominant freshmen

Missouri has three freshmen on this season’s roster, Claire Sullivan, Mackenzy Middlebrooks and Tate Schroeder. The trio, to put it simply, has been incredible, combining for a staggering 15-3 singles record this spring. The class is led by Schroeder, who has contributed nine wins and just one loss. She has been the Tigers’ most consistent player, providing a stabilizing force in the middle of the lineup and typically competing in the No. 4 position. Schroeder came to Missouri as the 41st recruit in the 2016 class with a lengthy resume that included a Colorado singles state championship.

Graduating from the IMG academy in Florida, Schroeder came to Columbia well prepared to shoulder a heavy load right away.

“I’m not shocked at all to see her be where she’s at,” Gaston said. “I feel very honored to have someone like her on the team that comes in every day and pushes herself the way she does, so I think that she will continue to rise and continue to do big things for this program.”

The senior pairing

A primary factor in the Tigers’ doubles success is the pairing of the roster’s two seniors, Bea Machado Santos and Cassidy Spearman. Gaston made a change in the doubles lineup after the fourth match of the season, when the team’s doubles record sat at 2-2. He decided to pair the roster’s most experienced players, and with it, a dynamic force was born. It is arguably the best decision of Gaston’s young head coaching career, as the pairing and the team proceeded to rip off seven straight doubles victories. The seniors’ experience and chemistry is unmatched, and it shows in the way they strategically overwhelm their competition.

Depth

An important byproduct of the freshmen class’ considerable contributions is the depth that it adds to Missouri’s roster. No statistic demonstrates the roster’s depth better than the win distribution by roster position. The majority of the Tigers’ wins are coming from the fourth, fifth and sixth positions, which are typically occupied by the younger, less experienced players. The bottom three positions on the roster have contributed 24 singles wins, while the top three have provided just 11. The depth provides the team many benefits, the most important being flexibility. Gaston is able to create the best lineup for each individual opponent, improving the team's chance of a victory going into every match.

The Tigers’ schedule gets considerably more difficult as they enter conference competition, but if these first-half trends continue, they will have a chance against any team in the country.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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