Gonzaga women’s tennis showed the team is coming together and is ready to win on Sunday.
Taking advantage of being at home inside the Stevens Center, the Zags took over singles play as they claimed five flights at the Bulldog Invite. Aided by their development-first coaches DJ Gurule and Natalie Pluskota, the Zags are proving what they work on in practice is paying off.
“This tournament has been incredible,” said Natalie Pluskota, Gonzaga assistant coach. “The most important thing is instilling our system and getting them to believe in themselves, and this weekend was a prime example of that. We had six girls in the finals; it doesn’t get better than that by any means. It just proves that what we’re doing here is working.”
The Bulldogs did not instantly find success on Sunday as they had to work through a tough start in doubles. Nevada Apollo and Domonique Garley, as well as Alex Bourguignon and Graciela Rosas, lost their bracket finals. Elsewhere in doubles play, Sophie Whittle and Kate Ketels took third place in the A bracket with a 6-1 win and the team of Katie Day/Haruna Tsuruta lost 6-4 in the C Consolation final. Yet when the team reached the part of the tournament where most players are out of energy, the Zags responded in the best way possible by winning five of the tournament’s six singles brackets and every single one for which they competed.
The singles dominance began with Apollo winning her first career bracket title, defeating Maria Tavares of Idaho 6-2, 6-3 in the B Singles flight. It was the sophomore’s sixth win of the tournament season.
Then it was the freshmen’s turn. Tsuruta claimed her second bracket of the fall with a two-set 6-4, 6-2 victory over Portland State’s Tracy Dong in the C Singles Flight. Day took the F singles title after holding on in the first set 6-4, and taking the second set 6-3 to down Idaho’s Claire Yang as her teammates cheered her on. Finishing off another great freshmen performance, Ketels won a tiebreaker in the first set and stayed persistent in the second set to seize third place in the C flight over UI’s Ana Batiri 7-5, 6-4.
Meanwhile, the longest match of the afternoon took place on court 2 where team captain Bourguignon battled with UI’s Lucia Badillos for the Singles Flight D title. Bourguignon won the first set 6-3 impressing with powerful serves and returns, but Badillos owned the second set winning 6-2. The third set put Bourguignon to the test as she played with ferocity to battle back from a 0-3 deficit and steal the tie-breaking set 6-4.
“I took a little break, slowed down a bit mentally, and worked more,” Bourguignon said. “Having my teammates’ energy on the side of the court helped push me through in the end.”
The fifth bracket title came in flight E in a match-up between teammates where Garley beat Rosas 6-4, 6-1. Whittle also took third place in the top singles bracket, defeating Janaya Smith of Eastern Washington 6-2, 6-4.
Freshmen Great Start Continues
Having been through three tournaments in their collegiate careers now, Tsuruta, Ketels, and Day have proved yet again they can compete with the best.
“I think they are doing really well,” Bourguignon said. “It’s tough because we are a young team, but I think they are really buying into the program. It showed today.”
The coaches remain patient with freshmen development while their teammates provide the support they need to excel. Bourguignon, a captain on the team, has done her best to make sure her young teammates are learning the ways of the program by sharing her experience.
"I’ve just been trying to lead by example with hard work, try to be there for them and reach out if they need anything,” Bourguignon said.
Strong Coaching Presence
The coaching duo of Gurule and Pluskota shined at the Bulldog Invite as both coaches were actively encouraging their players and guiding them to victory. In a hard-fought match that required plenty of mental toughness, Bourguignon stay focused by listening to her coaches’ winning advice.
"They help me get out of my own head a little bit,” she said. “It’s hard for me to see what I’m doing wrong or see what’s working against my opponent, so having them on the side helps a lot.”
Pluskota has made her impact clear by pushing her team onto victory every step of the way. She could be found celebrating every set won with her players and remaining calm when they fell behind.
“Everybody responds to different criticisms or pick-me-ups, so I specifically just reminding them that they are doing a great job and they have to keep the energy up,” Pluskota said. “But more importantly believing in what they can do in their style and training and looking left and right to get the pick-me-ups from their teammates.”
In the first season with the Zags, Pluskota is already making her mark by displaying the same encouragement for her team on and off the court.
“We are embracing every opportunity to get better and work together as a family,” Pluskota said. “I’m committed to making these girls better on and off the court.”