COLUMBIA — Sports teams usually designate someone with special leadership skills as captain. The Missouri tennis team doesn’t have a captain – it has eight.
Missouri coach Blake Starkey said he doesn’t believe in naming a team captain. In his mind, if a player doesn’t have those leadership skills, then there isn’t a spot on the team for them. He said these intangibles play a special role in his recruiting, and he expects to see them every time his players are on the court.
“I understand that (naming a team captain) with a football team or baseball, or with a big group,” Starkey said. “But everyone on our team is a leader. I think in a way, it's almost insulting to have a captain.”
Starkey said his team is good with handling the role, but in the past he has had to deal with players dividing themselves into different groups, causing conflicts.
“If you have that, then you hear, ‘Well that person’s not the boss of me,’ and get that thing kind of going,” Starkey said. “I’ve always made a big deal about saying, ‘Look everyone on our team, you’re all leaders.’”
Senior Sofia Ayala said everyone has bought into Starkey’s system. No one is an individual, and not even the seniors, Ayala and Kristen Bleakley, have a bigger leadership role than any other teammate.
“We are all leaders, we are all together, we are a unity,” Ayala said. “There’s not like a senior and a freshman, where the freshman has to listen to the senior. No, we all are together and everybody has a voice, and anybody can talk about things.”
Ayala’s example has been put to use during the fall tournament schedule. Bleakley has been paired with freshman Andrea Lewis for doubles action. The pair has been successful, winning the Pink, Black and Gold Bracket Three crown at Missouri’s second annual Ace for a Cure tournament last weekend.
“She (Bleakley) is easy for me to come in with,” Lewis said. “She shows me how to do it.”
Lewis is in her first season with the Tigers, and said that because everyone can be their own person, the team gets along and shares the responsibility without much conflict.
“Everyone kind of plays a different role,” Lewis said. “Some are more outspoken in leading the team, and some do quiet things that you notice on the backside. Everyone is so different, and that’s why we work so well together.”