Tiegan Aitken puts English spin on GU women's tennis

Tiegan Aitken ended the fall season with a 12-7 record, winning her last match against Cal Poly.

Put in the work, and you will see the results. This is a saying as old as time, and it has proven true for Gonzaga University women’s tennis player Tiegan Aitken, who is looking to build off a stellar sophomore campaign for the Zags this upcoming spring season.

Aitken finished last season with the best winning percentage for the Zags at .632 and ended with a 12-7 record in singles, including an 8-4 record on court No. 5 to help pace the Zags' singles roster.

This experience bodes well for the Zags, who are returning multiple pieces from a team that is looking to make their mark in the West Coast Conference (WCC) this season, after multiple close matches last season.

For Aitken, GU is a long way from home. Some 4,500 miles from Spokane, is the town of Canterbury, England, a small town in the far southeastern corner.

“I knew I wanted to come to America to play tennis,” Aitken said. “In England the funding is not as strong for women’s sports so that’s when I turned my focus to talking to schools and coaches in the U.S.”

After deciding she wanted to come to America to play tennis, the arduous process of picking the right school began. Following a talk with the coaches for GU, Aitken scheduled a visit to campus and knew once she met the team, saw the facilities and got to learn more about the school, that GU was the place for her.

In Aitken’s first season on campus for GU, she competed in two matches, with her match against Eastern Washington going unfinished, but staying the course and being ready helped her take a leap going into her sophomore year.

“Tiegan is an extremely hard worker, and a joy to coach,” said GU women's tennis head coach Natalie Pluskota-Hamberg. “Since she stepped on campus, she has been all in for our program.”

Off the court, Aitken also is an exemplary student in the classroom, having to balance a busy schedule of classes, practices, homework and everything else a college student goes through during an average day, but it is a challenge she has learned to become accustomed with.

“As a freshman, I found it a bit of a challenge having so much to do, but once you get a routine, it gets easier,” Aitken said. “We also have student athlete planners that help a lot with time management and knowing when you can fit in 10 minutes of work here, or an hour there.”

Back on the court, Aitken is continuing to improve her attacking play and ground strokes from the baseline to take the next step forward as a tennis player. Aitken possesses a strong forehand and good transition play, making her an effective singles player for GU.

“Tiegan is athletic which gives her the ability to play a variety of ways if needed,” Pluskota-Hamberg said. “She is at her best when she is looking to transition forward and finish points at the net.”

Aitken has also been working 

side-by-side with GU strength coach Michael Taylor to make some necessary gains to help her be more physical on court.

During Aitken’s three years at GU, she has gone through a coaching overhaul, with Pluskota-Hamberg not being the first head coach that she has played for as a Zag. When Aitken originally committed to GU, current men’s head coach D.J. Gurule was the women’s coach but left the women’s team to take over for the men in 2021.

Despite the change in coaching staff during Aitken’s three years at GU, she has found positives from all the coaches she has encountered during her time as a Zag.

“Each individual coach that we have had here has been able to bring something to my game,” Aitken said. “It can be seen as a challenge having a lot of coaches, but I have found it helpful being able to learn something from all of them.”

To round out the fall season, Aitken was able to end on a high note, winning her last consolation in singles and doubles play. Aitken dispatched Cal Poly’s Delanie Dunkel, 6-2, 6-4 to earn a resounding victory. In doubles, she partnered with Kianna Oda, and the pairing bounced back from a round of 32 defeat to win 8-2.

Turning the page to the spring season, Aitken is excited to get back on the court with her teammates and continue to keep putting in the work and seeing the results.

“Tiegan keeps gaining more experience every season in singles and doubles,”  Pluskota-Hamberg said. “This experience is good for Tiegan, and we expect it will help be an asset us for us come the spring season.”

Tommy Connolly is a staff writer.