COLUMBIA — Aware of the talent on his team’s upcoming schedule, Missouri tennis coach Blake Starkey said he politely told his team this week “it’s officially over, I hope you enjoyed it.”
Starkey was referring to the team’s undefeated homestand. The Tigers improved to 7-1 Saturday with 7-0 victory over Southeast Missouri and a 5-2 win against Illinois-Chicago.
To prepare his players for a road trip that includes matches against Big Ten Conference opponents, much stronger programs than the Tigers faced at home, Starkey tweaked his lineup, especially against UIC, to give each individual more of a test.
“I just believe in them,” Starkey said. “I think we have seven solid players.”
While some Missouri players like sophomore Kaitlin Dunham and freshman Mallory Weber struggled to conquer their challenges, others found success.
Freshman Kaitlyn Ritchie, who has won seven straight singles matches, moved up to the No. 4 singles court where after giving up the second set, she defeated UIC senior Grace Gil-Morlis 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Ritchie cited frustration as one of the tools that helped her take the final set.
“Basically I kinda got really mad,” Ritchie said. “I think that just made me refocus and just start hitting out and going for my shots instead of playing her game.”
Ritchie felt good about her win and said that with the exception of Arkansas, the team’s only loss, the Flames were the most difficult challenge the Tigers have faced.
“They were good,” she said. “This was the best team that we’ve beat thus far.”
Junior Jessica Giuggioli, who played in the No. 1 spot Saturday for the first time since transferring from Kentucky last month, said that her win was tougher than the score indicated. She said the experience has readied her for the road trip.
“I think these are great matches to build your confidence,” Giuggioli said. “Today we got challenged and that was good.”
Starkey said that his team should feel proud of its early season success, even if the true test begins in the coming weeks.
“They should have a lot of confidence right now, we took care of what we needed to take care of,” he said.
Starkey said his team will be back in practice Monday instead of getting the day off to prepare for the road trip that begins next Saturday at Iowa.