COLUMBIA — An offseason for the Missouri tennis team is just an extra excuse for the team to practice.
The closest thing to an offseason is what coach Blake Starkey has dubbed the “fall season.” The team plays in three tournaments and typically practices five times a week. Starkey doesn’t go light on practices, either . He pushes his players just as he would during the spring and Big 12 Conference seasons beginning in January.
“We just train," Starkey said. "That’s what we do. In a sense, it's almost like an offseason, but the fall is more individual while the spring is more team. I'm more into the team stuff, and I think they (the players) are, too."
Each tournament the team plays affects its practice differently. For instance, after a great showing at the Ace for the Cure tournament hosted by Missouri two weekends ago, Starkey said the team seemed distracted, but he expected the players to bounce back this week and get ready for the last tournament of the fall.
“We had some recruits in, there was a Thursday night ESPN game (the Missouri football team took on Nebraska in a losing effort) and some of the girls had tests, with an end result,” Starkey said. “The only thing I care about is having a good practice this week and next week to better our results at regionals (the ITA Regional from Oct. 21-25 in Norman, Okla.).”
Junior Kaitlyn Ritchie said she sees the fall season almost as a continuation to the spring. She describes herself as a player who gets better with each match she plays, so by the end of the season she feels like she should be playing her best tennis.
“I think that the fall is important to just kind of keep that perspective,” Ritchie said. “We have practice just like it (in the spring), so I can work on getting into a rhythm and getting into my game each time we practice or play a match in preparation for competition in the spring.”
Even after the ITA Regional is finished, Starkey is going to continue practices, but he said the focus will shift more toward conditioning. He said before the tournaments, practices have a 60-40 tennis to conditioning ratio but anticipates those numbers will flip once the last tournament ends. He said it is all to build to spring success.
“The fall is the fall,” Starkey said. “The spring is the matches. That’s really what I care about, getting those four points.
Ritchie added, “The fall is great for tournaments and practice, but the spring is what is most important.”
The layover between matches is something Starkey said he has feared in the past. The last fall tournament usually ends in October, and the beginning of the spring season is in January.
“They pretty much get off from the length of summer and then, boom, it’s the season,” Starkey said. “Think of football, do they just get off? I think that’s what scares most coaches. Even if most of your girls are good, but one or two take the time just off, they come back and then they’re ice cold. The team is cooked.”
This fall season is a first for freshman Andrea Lewis, but she said she thinks it is a good way to prepare for the spring and thinks her game and the team are better off because of the way Starkey pushes it.
“I feel like it is all-inclusive,” Lewis said. “It first just gives me a chance to work on my game. I think that doing that prepares me for the spring. It is kind of a double-preparation thing.”
Starkey does think it is important that the players relax off the court and take time for themselves; however, once they hit the court, they aren’t on their own time anymore. The team is on his time, and he doesn’t like his time to be wasted.