Liberty Women’s tennis team battles “what ifs” after season ends early

With the spread of Covid-19, sports games and tournaments have been canceled all over the world. But that fact became reality for the Lady Flames tennis team when they found out their season had been canceled in the middle of a team trip to Hawaii.

The Lady Flames were off to a impressive start to their spring season (7-4), on a three-game winning streak after beating North Texas. Liberty also had hopes of winning the 2020 ASUN conference title after some strong performances throughout the season from senior Kalani Soli, who was unanimously selected to the ASUN All-Conference first team last season.

However, the Lady Flames will no longer pursue their goal of a 2020 ASUN conference title. On March 12, the ASUN Conference Presidents’ Council officially decided to cancel all intercollegiate competition, regular season and championship segments for all spring sports. After hearing the news, the tennis coaches brought the athletes to the hotel lobby and told them what was going on in an emotional team meeting.

“I was frustrated that we had put so much time into the season and (were) peaking at the right time,” Head Coach Jeff Maren said. “And really feeling bad for the girls, knowing that their season was over, and there was nothing they could do about it.”

For junior Grace Hashiguchi, her initial reaction to the news was complete shock.

“For me I was just shocked at first, because I couldn’t really believe that they had cancelled it,” Hashiguchi said. “I was actually with Coach (Giancarlo) Lemmi at the time because we were eating lunch, and he told me the NCAA was cancelling the whole tournament.”

After disappointment it is easy for anyone to become upset and lose zeal. To boost the Lady Flames spirits, Maren has created a game she plays with the team, calling this spring season the “What If Season.”

In the “What If Season,” Maren gives a summary of each game that was supposed to be played this season for each player. The summary includes details on whether they won or lost the match and more extensive details like crowd reactions and even weather conditions.

For the Lady Flames to achieve their goal of becoming ASUN conference champions next season, the athletes will need to stay in shape, even while still practicing social distancing. Freshman Tiffany Nguyen has changed her training routine to accommodate social distancing guidelines.

“I have (still) been training every day, I’ve been running the stadium (Williams Stadium) stairs and the Liberty mountain every day,” Nguyen said.

Even though this season ended prematurely, Maren still has great expectations for the athletes and this program moving forward.

“My expectations are quite high … with the schedule we have and the fact that every single player on our team has returned,” Maren said. “So I think there is going to be a lot of high expectations, and I think the girls are really looking forward to the season.”

Emmanuel Adamson is a Sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter @Eadamson12

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