For the first time, Missouri freshman tennis player Kaitlin Dunham played No. 4 singles Saturday against Kansas State. Before Saturday, in her previous seven matches, she played No. 5 six times and No. 6 once.
Saturday, Dunham said she played the best tennis of her collegiate career and defeated Kansas State’s Olga Klimova, 6-2, 6-3. Given the stress of moving up to No. 4 as a freshman, Dunham was ecstatic with her performance Saturday.
“It’s awesome,” Dunham said. “It does feel good. I was on. I don’t know what it was. I really couldn’t miss, and I was having fun. It just went my way today.”
Tigers coach Blake Starkey said Dunham deserved to move up.
“She’s just been winning, a lot. It was just time to bring her up,” Starkey said. “When you have a kid that’s like that, you just want to see what they can do. You want to keep challenging them. I felt like, let’s just bring her up a few spots and let’s start testing her against better players and see what she can do.”
Dunham helped the Tigers defeat the Wildcats 5-2 Saturday to improve to 5-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big 12 Conference. Last season, Missouri went 1-10 in the Big 12. Dunham said she has been trying to prove she deserves to be toward the top of the Tigers lineup. In doubles, Dunham and her partner Chrissy Svetlic defeated the Wildcats’ Natasha Vieira and Tereza Prochazkova 8-4 in route to the Tigers’ 3-1 doubles victory.
Dunham’s biggest fans are her parents. Louis and Stephany Dunham travel from Kansas City to the Green Tennis Center to watch their daughter’s matches.
Louis said he enjoys watching his daughter improve at the college level as a freshman and is proud she moved up on the roster.
“For a freshman, she needed to play down low and build up her confidence. She’s playing well,” said Louis Dunham, who said the biggest part of his daughter’s game is “her overall energy. I’m proud of her, I’ve always been a big supporter of hers.”
Kaitlin has been playing tennis since she was 6 years old. Stephany Dunham said there were times she wondered why her daughter invested so much time in tennis. She said she understands now.
“I feel like all the years we’ve put in,” she said, “that 12 years getting here to the college level, it’s been worth it.”
For Kaitlin Dunham, having her parents make the journey to Columbia for every match to cheer her on is a gratifying feeling.
“Hearing them cheer me on, I feel better about it,” she said. “I feel like they’re going to help me get through it.
“I know she’s (her mother) praying for me. It makes me feel better.”