COLUMBIA — Big 12 Conference play has been a struggle for some members of the Missouri tennis team, but Jessica Giuggioli and Kaitlyn Ritchie have risen to the challenge and demonstrated the confidence and desire to succeed.
Giuggioli, a junior who transferred to Missouri at the start of the semester, and Ritchie, a freshman, have been the team’s bright spots despite the team’s 1-4 conference record so far this spring. Individually, Giuggioli is 12-5 and undefeated in Columbia, while Ritchie is 10-6 and the only player on the team with a winning conference record at 3-2, which includes a win against No. 4 Baylor. Coach Blake Starkey recently moved Giuggioli to the No. 1 spot in the lineup. He said she’s earned her way there through her success and shown a desire to play against tough opponents.
“She’s very determined to make the most of (being at No. 1),” Starkey said.
Since arriving in Missouri in January from Kentucky, Giuggioli has shown a hunger for playing good competition. Playing high up was exactly what she hoped to accomplish, especially now that she is an upperclassman. While at first she was a quiet player at No. 5 singles, her aggressive side has been much more visible on the court now that her competition is stronger. She says it not only helps her to improve, but she also likes playing at a high level of intensity.
“For me, the better the players I play are, the better I play myself,” she said.
In her few months in Columbia, Giuggioli says she’s not only become more aggressive, but her doubles game has improved. Not coincidentally, her doubles partner is Ritchie.
Together, Giuggioli and Ritchie are 9-3 in doubles, 3-1 in the Big 12. Both players say their mutual trust and positive attitude are what make them successful.
“I know that (Ritchie) has a really good ball, so I’m confident playing with her,” Giuggioli said.
Giuggioli said her confidence in Ritchie’s ability makes her feel comfortable enough to stay aggressive and do what she personally does best.
Ritchie said that she was a inexperienced doubles player before coming to Missouri, but when she began playing with Giuggioli, things clicked rather quickly and they learned each other’s strengths with ease. The two have a strong rapport on the court and are the most relaxed of any of the team’s doubles pairs, encouraging each other with high fives between nearly every point. For Ritchie, it’s particularly helpful to know that no matter how rough things get in any given match, Giuggioli will continue to support her.
“I can go out there and know that if I make the mistake or I play a bad point or a bad game that it’s not going to have any affect on her (Giuggioli) except that she’s just going to continue to be positive,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie also said that since she began her tennis career at Missouri, she has learned to have more fun when playing, especially with Giuggioli.
“We’re not too serious, but we’re not too not serious,” Ritchie said. “We definitely go out there with the intent of winning every match.”
Both players spoke modestly of their recent success and said that they simply hope it will continue against the remaining six Big 12 opponents on the schedule, half of which are ranked. At the very least, they have confidence and drive in themselves and they trust their teammates will give it their all.
Starkey said that without question those two have been helping the team, but he would like to see that attitude and results in the players that are not helping the team.
“I’d like to get that kind of performance out of everybody,” he said.
Sophomore Kaitlin Dunham and freshman Mallory Weber have each lost their last six matches. Both players are only two examples of how the team will need to improve to have a chance at stealing another win against a ranked opponent, the last coming against No. 70 Kansas.
“The Kansas win was great, but it’s over,” Starkey said.
The Tigers will face that challenge this weekend when they host both No. 31 Texas A&M this afternoon and No. 19 Texas Saturday morning.