By William Qualkinbush
CLEMSON — Sometimes wins and losses can get in the way of understanding the achievement of a team relative to expectations and external factors. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, long-term growth and sustainability are often shunned in favor of the quick fix.
In spite of an uncharacteristic loss prior to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, Clemson women’s tennis coach Nancy Harris lauded her team’s resilience to overcome adversity and play its best games toward the end of the season.
“We never gave up,” she said. “That’s one of the things we preach. No matter what the odds are, you give your best, and what’s meant to be will be. But if you’re not always giving 100 percent, you put yourself in a position where you don’t have a chance to win.”
The Tigers’ season was not a failure by any measure. On the contrary, facing one of the nation’s toughest schedules, Harris’ squad amassed a 16-10 record and finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But all season long, Harris could feel there was something missing—some piece of the puzzle that kept the team from being truly elite.
“When the entire team played well at the same time, they were a top five team,” she said. “That’s how good they were when they were all connecting and playing well at the same time.
“It just seemed that they could never get a rhythm. They could never get in sync as a team. That was really my biggest challenge.”
It is difficult to achieve when there is a lack of continuity within the leadership structure of a team. Such was the case with the Clemson women’s team this season due to a rash of injuries to senior Josipa Bek, who set the all-time wins record in her final match against Georgia in the second round of the national tournament.
“That youngster never gave up,” Harris said. I just couldn’t tell you how proud I am of her. Jo has always played at Clemson with her back against the wall and been able to come up with a win.”
In Bek’s absence, fellow senior Keri Wong filled the void with a 24-12 singles record. Bek and Wong teamed up to give Clemson its first top-ranked doubles team in history this season. Harris referred to them as “two seniors we will never forget.” Senior Nelly Ciolkowski also chipped in 20 victories for the Tigers this season.
There were ample opportunities for young players to step up and take on responsibility this season, and Harris was pleased with the way her freshmen responded. Beatrice Gumulya won her final 11 matches of the season—an impressive feat for any player—and fellow freshman Romy Kolzer scored against the Bulldogs in the season’s final match.
“The freshmen, I think, were very inspiring to the rest of the team,” Harris said. “That helped our seniors and the rest of the team continue to battle through some of those difficult times.”
In addition, sophomore Klara Vyskocilova was an all-conference performer and a versatile player that filled four slots at different times this season. She and the other returners have a chance to bring about continual improvement in the women’s tennis program at Clemson, just as long as luck turns to their side next season.