Ready and set to go

Men’s and women’s tennis teams prepare for another successful season

The Liberty men’s and women’s tennis teams are getting ready as another season begins.

backhand — Senior Valerie Thong , one of only two seniors for the Lady Flames, zoned in on her opponent. Photo credit: Leah Seavers

Backhand — Senior Valerie Thong , one of only two seniors for the Lady Flames, zoned in on her opponent. Photo credit: Leah Seavers

Men’s Tennis:
Liberty’s men’s team earned the No. 8 ranking in the Atlantic Region of the International Tennis Association, the highest year-end regional ranking in program history. They finished 6-2, setting their program record in conference play in the Big South Conference and a 14-10
overall record.

This season, the Flames promoted Assistant Coach Rich Benson to Associate Head Coach over the summer, a position that was “well-earned” according to Head Coach Chris Johnson.
The Flames have seven fall tournaments on their schedule. The team has added four freshmen who are preparing to jump into fall gameplay this weekend in Georgia for the Southern Intercollegiate Championships (SIC).

“This season we are very excited to bring in one of the largest recruiting classes we have ever had,” Johnson said. “That has given us more depth in our line-up.”

The men’s team began its season Sept. 11 in Athens, GA.

Lady Flames Tennis:
The Lady Flames Tennis team also began its schedule for the fall, Sept. 11 at the Elon Invitational and has been preparing all summer to be in top shape going into the season.

“Our team has grown in talent and maturity each of the three years I’ve been here, and this year will be no different,” Head Coach Jeff Maren said. “Our returners practiced all summer and competed to stay sharp.”

As the U.S. Open ends, the Lady Flames season kicks off, and the team takes what they have learned from watching professionals and applies it during the season.

“We can always learn from the best,” Maren said. “When watching the pros, I ask our team to pay close attention to their movement and preparation for each shot. I also have them analyze their shot selection. Pros do such an amazing job of picking the right shot at the right time.”

The roster for the Lady Flames includes four juniors, including the winner of the Elon Invitational B-2 singles last season, junior Lauren Mabe. She has been preparing over the summer to step into a larger role of leadership with the graduation of Brittany Yang.

“I played matches almost every day so this really prepared me to be ready to compete when I stepped back on campus with my teammates,” Mabe said.

She and the other juniors along with the two seniors, Belen Rivera and Valerie Thong, are among the many faces of experience for this all-around roster.

“If we can come together and put each other first this season we’ll see great results this year, as I believe this will be one to remember,” Mabe said.

Senior Valerie Thong from California has played at Liberty for three years now and is hoping to enter into the year with a higher leadership role.

“My role as a senior on a team of 10 girls is pretty significant,” Thong said. “Just being a member of such a small team, your presence makes an impact regardless of what year you are … Because I have such a strong relationship with the coaches and each of the girls, they know to come to me whenever they want to communicate something to the team that they are hesitant to speak about.”

Last year, Charleston Southern University (CSU) knocked the Lady Flames out of the BSC Championship Tournament in the semifinals. CSU was given the top seed going into the tournament.

“Above all, I learned from last year that it’s not enough for me to just stay in my lane and focus on my personal performance on the court,” Thong said. “If the girls come to the same realization as I have, and we help each other in this way, we will be unbelievable.”

The girls have five tournaments scheduled in the fall. Through the spring schedule, they will face four teams that, just last season, competed in the NCAA Championships.

“My expectations are very high for this season,” Maren said. “Our maturity, unity, and talent have grown tremendously over the past three years, and so I fully believe that we can win the conference championship, compete in the National tournament, and finish the year nationally ranked.”

The Women’s Tennis club resumes play Oct. 2 at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American in Los Angeles, California.

Castel is a sports reporter.

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