COLUMBIA — Déjà vu is one way to describe the Missouri women’s tennis team’s victory against No. 55 Kansas.
At least Kansas player Stephanie Smith would have to agree.
For the second year in a row, Missouri clinched a 4-3 victory over Kansas on Sunay at the Green Tennis Center with a win against Smith in the No. 6 singles spot.
Not only that, but identical to last year’s match against the Jayhawks, the Tigers won the doubles point taking two of three matches, lost three singles matches, and won a critical three-set battle at the No. 2 singles court to keep the chance of victory alive.
But considering five players on Missouri weren’t on the team last year and three of them were responsible for Sunday’s win, déjà vu might not be the best phrase after all. Instead, it was this year’s team’s long-awaited first conference victory and first defeat of a ranked team this season.
Two freshmen and the team’s most recent transfer were responsible for the win, something Missouri coach Blake Starkey was proud of. Starkey was also pleased with the large and enthusiastic crowd that was on hand for the rivalry, which was experienced for the first time Sunday by all of the team’s newest players.
“The energy was different than anything I’ve ever played in,” said Missouri freshman Kaitlyn Ritchie, who clinched the match with her victory against Smith at No. 6.
Ritchie says she tends to let her nerves affect her on the court, so when freshman teammate Maureen Modesto won her match at No. 5 to tie the overall match at 3-3, Ritchie felt the pressure when all eyes looked to her court. Knowing the match was in her hands, she and her coaches worked hard to keep her positive and focused.
Starkey said the team’s response to pressure was a key to the victory.
“Everybody’s got pressure. It just depends on how you respond to it, and I think we were relaxed, and that really helped us in the really tight spots today,” Starkey said.
Junior transfer Jessica Giuggioli responded well to the pressure at No. 2 singles. She faced Kansas’ Elizaveta Avdeeva as a freshman in her days at Kentucky and said she knew she would have to play her best to defeat Avdeeva this time. She won 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
Giuggioli said she had no idea how big the rivalry with Kansas was, but is happiest that the team finally has a big win to be proud of.
“It just set such a good mood now for the next matches,” she said.
Starkey said the win offered his players some validation considering that Kansas was ranked, but he says he wants them to find a way to bring the same intensity to future matches where there will be no rivalry or supportive crowd.
“I think what we need to do — the importance, and the electricity we feel — we need to channel that without a crowd,” Starkey said.
The Tigers play six of their next eight matches on the road. They get next weekend off before traveling March 28 to Texas Tech.