Westminster might be in the same division as Stephens, but the teams are not in the same league competitively.
The Stars’ inexperience showed Friday in a 9-0 loss in which Westminster was in complete control of every match.
“They’re probably the toughest we’ll see all season,” Stephens coach Lori Towle said. “They’re just a very deep, talented team.”
Half of the Stars who competed had never played for a tennis team before practice began in February. Stephens (0-2) does not actively recruit prospective tennis players and cannot give scholarships as a Division III school.
“We’re playing against NAIA and (NCAA) Division III teams where there’s more of an emphasis put on athletics, so we’ll definitely be challenged every match,” Towle said.
Westminster (1-0), like many other Division III teams, finds a way to widen its athletic budget by renaming money given to sports teams as “leadership money.”
“(Leadership money) provides them with what they need to get athletes in,” Towle said. “Not having that in place, it’s difficult to compete.”
With the teams playing one eight-game pro-set per match to finish the meet before dark, Westminster took the lead early in doubles without much trouble.
Kelly Lewis and Jessie Prewitt defeated Katie Aichholz and Lindsy Hively 8-0, and Kelsey Higgins and Bea Barton, Stephens’ most experienced players, fell to Joanna Carpenter and Elizabeth Bentz 8-1.
“Communication is the key at doubles,” Higgins said. “We’ve only played together twice, and we need to practice together more.”
The Stars’ closest match of the day came in third doubles. Pamela Kelly and Sarah Burris took an early lead, but the Blue Jays’ Trisha Peplinski and Caralee Baker then took control and won 8-4.
“It was a good match for them,” Towle said. “They came out on top 2-1 but had a little slippage and the tempo changed.”
Towle gave the top singles spot to Aichholz, who had a strong match against Missouri Valley on Wednesday. Carpenter outmatched Aichholz and won 8-0.
“My serving’s getting better, but it’s still pretty sporadic,” Aichholz said. “I’m not consistent in anything really.”
The Blue Jays also shut out Burris, Higgins and Hively. Higgins nearly won each of the last three games, but could not get the final point to score.
“Kelsey was really struggling with (Lewis’) serve and placement,” Towle said.
Barton, in her fourth season with the Stars, lost to Katie Ward 8-2.
“Bea played a solid match, but the level of the other player was not something she was able to come out on top of,” Towle said.
Bentz defeated Kelly 8-1 to complete the sweep.
Towle said that she thinks her team will improve before its rematch with Westminster on March 31, though a win could be hard to obtain.
“Every match will be a challenge for us this year because we don’t have a lot of experience,” Towle said.
Higgins, a freshman, also said she thinks she will improve during the season.
“I can tell with each (match) that my game is improving,” Higgins said. “It’s a slow process, but every game’s helping a lot.”