Women's tennis: Gonzaga team chases progress over perfection

Senior Kate Ketels and freshman Cate Broerman play doubles against the University of Idaho on Feb. 1.

Unlike some other sports programs, the main goal for Gonzaga women’s tennis isn’t to win — it’s to compete. Of course, the Zags want to finish with a solid ranking, but it is not their priority. Instead of getting caught up in winning or losing, the team is focusing on development.

“We, as a university, preach development,” head coach D.J. Gurule said. “Development as a student, as a leader and as a community member. We do the same thing here, we really buy into that.”

With only two seniors and a handful of freshmen, the coaches are focusing on getting the team caught up with how the program runs. New players are compelled to adjust to the college game, the speed of play, the countless hours of training, the coaching style and their teammates.

Nearly every day, the team has a two-hour practice. On top of that, it holds weekly pool sessions, agility practice and individual training with their coaches. Not to mention weight training with strength and conditioning coach, Michael Taylor.

However, at the heart of the Zags’ training is quality rather than quantity. Every practice has to have depth and outstanding effort. Athletes won’t endure a two-hour practice just to get it done and the coaching staff won’t overload them with training sessions.

“We want them to be better every day that they step on the court,” Gurule said. “But by the end of the season, we want to really see those strides from start to finish.”

With the many hours spent in each other’s presence, the team’s bond is inevitably strong. Since the team is  young, it took some time to grow close. Their different personalities and relationships with each other are what push the team to work harder on the court and compete.

“Every match, you gotta bring everything you have and do it for your team,” junior Taylor Gruber said.

Not only do they spend innumerable hours together playing tennis, but they socialize away from the sport as well, from sharing meals to hanging out over spring break to taking trips to Mount Spokane in the winter.

“With a team, you’re more like sisters than friends,” senior Kate Ketels said.

Tennis is a unique sport because players are used to standing out individually. They don’t play with multiple teammates on the court at once, like in basketball or soccer. There are, at most, two teammates directly working together to get the win.

Nevertheless, tennis is a team sport at GU — everyone has to show up and compete. This dynamic is contagious and key to the team’s development.

“These girls are committed to each other,” Gurule said. “Not to Gonzaga the name, not to me as a coach, not to [assistant coach] Natalie [Pluskota] as a coach … they’re committed to each other.”

Another aspect of the sport is the support from the crowd, specifically the GU men’s tennis team. The men go to every women’s game they can, and the women attend every men’s game possible.

Some of the athletes, such as Ketels, play into the cheering crowd. Others, such as Gruber, tune it out to focus more on themselves and their opponent. Either way, knowing that moral support is present provides energy and heart during matches.

Attendance at men’s matches is not made mandatory by coaches on the women’s team, but they voluntarily take up to four hours out of their day to support fellow Zags.

“It’s the Gonzaga way,” Gurule said.

Women’s tennis’ high-quality fall season, which ended with a national rank of No. 51, gave the Bulldogs confidence going into the spring season. The seniors intend to leave everything on the court and have no regrets as they leave GU at the end of the season.

The entire team wants a West Coast Conference championship. But above that, each athlete simply wants to progress in their tennis careers and their development as people.

GU started its spring season off strong on Feb. 1 with a 4-1 win over University of Idaho and a 4-0 win over Eastern Washington University. The Zags lost to Washington State University on Feb. 8 and Michigan State University on Feb. 15, but the Bulldogs picked up a win over Xavier University on Feb. 16.

Their next match will be at home inside The Stevens Center against Fresno State and Seattle University at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Samantha DiMaio is a staff writer.

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