A young North Central Women’s Tennis team holds serve in their success

Donate Today Buy This Video

North Central Women’s Tennis gets younger, but standards don’t drop

The last two years were the most successful in North Central women’s tennis history, winning the CCIW Tournament and qualifying for the NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Tournament in both. But despite most of the core of those teams having graduated and a squad this year that included six freshmen, neither the team’s talent nor expectations saw any dropoff.

“I mean, just seeing the growth even over the last three years, I think we all just have a really good mindset and like we want to compete and we want to work as hard as possible not only for ourselves but for each other,” said junior Nina Patience. “And I think also just being a younger team has allowed us to be a lot closer and I think that’s helped us on the road and even just throughout the spring, throughout the whole year.”

“In terms of tennis, they didn’t come in as freshmen,” said head coach Ryan Jump. “Which is obviously when you lose four in your lineup from the year before and six off of a second place team and probably the best team in program history and one up it this year it’s a testament to the ladies and how hard they work and what they’re about and and the the future and trajectory of our program.”

“Coming into high school, I had a team with like a lot of upperclassmen and so I looked up to them really like a lot,” recalled freshman Abigail Penados. “And so coming into here with it being like a very young team, it was hard to adjust at first. But you know, looking up into like how our team dynamic works now, it’s it’s really nice to have some young people because we get to like see each other as like, as the same and you know, there’s there’s no mother figures on the team, but we can just see each other as friends.”

Familiar dominance in conference play and a return to the national stage

The Cardinals were as dominant as ever in the regular season, sweeping through the CCIW with a perfect 8-0 record capped off by three straight sweeps to win a third straight conference tournament.

“The more burnt out they got and the more tired they got, the more stress they got from everything outside of tennis, the better they got,” Jump said. “They got tougher. They got better when it mattered. And yeah, we threw them through a gauntlet of a spring and they knew that and we knew that confidence was going to be really hard. And it was something that we preached all year with, you know, with six freshmen. But when it came time to show up, they showed up in a big way. And that was kind of what we were expecting for given the tests that they had, you know, in February, March.”

In the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the Cardinals kept their impressive record going with a 5-0 sweep of Hope College to advance to the second round for the second straight year. The lineup remained unchanged through the impressive postseason run: Penados and Natalie Bassett, Anastasia Bozovic and Kensington Payne, and Patience and Mikayla Edquiban as the three doubles teams, and Penados, Bassett, Payne, Edquiban, Patience and Kayla McSweeney in singles.

“I know we had a little bit of a challenge playing Hope in the first round,” said Patience of the tournament victory. “We all kind of started a little bit slow, but with the collective energy that we could build. We grew from that and then were able to be successful. In the postseason, it really is about making that last step and trying to get as far as we can. And I think we all really know that and take that to heart and every match.”

Abigail Penados makes NCC tennis history as a freshman

In what was a remarkable season for the young team all around, freshman Abigail Penados stood out, as she became the first player in program history to qualify for the NCAA singles tournament. It was an achievement that capped off an incredible year where she posted an overall record of 49-9 across singles and doubles.

“Kind of just like jumped into a big pool of sharks, you know, putting into one as a freshman, which usually doesn’t work out at the time,” Penados said. “But it was cool having to adjust to the speed of different players and it was nice getting to see improvement in my game from the fall into the spring.”

“Yeah, what a kid. We knew she was good, right?,” Jump said with a smile. “I mean, she’s every bit of the real deal as you can get in Division three tennis. You know she’s composed, she’s a good teammate. She works hard. But I think the coolest part about it and I think what makes her so successful is there’s no ego. Playing the top spot has a leadership role in and of itself. And as a freshman, that’s a tough ask and and to qualify and how the season that she had speaks a lot to her and speaks a lot to where our program’s going and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

“It was really cool,: said Penados of qualifying for the singles draw at nationals. “I mean, I didn’t even know there was a tournament like this. And so my like expectations coming into college was like winning our conference tournament, and that was really it for me. And so seeing that I made it into this big tournament, I was really shocked. And now I can, like, make my standards higher than it was before.”

A young team confident they can take the next step

The entire postseason lineup will return next season, with Patience the only rising senior among them and another strong recruiting class on the way. Winning the conference and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament have now become the minimum goals for Cardinals Women’s Tennis and they’re eager to show how much further they’re capable of going in the coming years.

“I think as a group, we all just need to literally just dig our heels in and see how much further we can go,” Patience said. “We know now what’s possible and it’s no longer like, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re here.’ It’s ‘we’re here now, how can we go further?.’ And now we just have to raise the bar a little bit in our speed and just throughout the year, like focusing on ourselves because we have the team dynamic, we just have to focus on ourselves a little more and see how much further we can go.”

“It’s unique because you hear that cliché expression of the goal is the standard,” said Jump. “And with this group like I genuinely believe that and I think that they do too. And that’s what makes it really cool. But you know what makes it hard? And we kind of talked about the end of the year. We’re going to talk about it again when they move in in August, it’s you know, what are you doing to separate yourself from everybody else? Like, sure, you know, we can crack the top ten in the region. We can win the league and win around the NCAA tournament. But what are we looking at to get to the Sweet 16? What are you looking at to stay in the top five in the region? You know, top five, top six. It ultimately comes down to a lot of self accountability and ultimately how much you want to make each other better and with the depth and what we’re looking to add with next year’s group I think it’s attainable.”

“Yeah, I mean, I think right now my goals are pretty high and my standards are pretty high,” Penados said. “So I would like to experience this again and again if I can. And I would like to bring a team with me too. So I mean, over there, I got to see it as an individual six sport, but in the future I like to see it as a team sport as well.”