BY Nathaniel Mata | SPORTS EDITOR
Last May, UTRGV women’s tennis made history in Brownsville. It became the first program to win a team Western Athletic Conference Championship and qualify for the NCAA tournament.
It’s only a few months later, and the women’s tennis team looks a lot different than the championship squad of last spring. The program graduated three in its lineup from a year ago, including Reegan Greenwood, who was matched with the top opponents on a match to match basis. They also lost Natacha Minc, who transferred to the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Possibly the biggest change comes at the head coaching position. First-year Vaquero Head Coach Stephanie Wooten-Quijada resigned from her position following the successful season to take the head position at the University of New Mexico.
Less than a month later, the new head coach was selected. Sonia Hahn joins UTRGV after spending the previous 19 seasons as co-head coach at the University of Tennessee. Hahn brings experience from the Southeastern Conference, in which Tennessee accumulated a 122-95 record in conference matches under her leadership.
Even though a lot has changed since last spring, Hahn still hopes to look toward the leadership of returning team members.
“The returnees, I’m still getting to know them and getting to see their games. But what I see I really like,” said Hahn, a former University of Kentucky standout. “I think they bring experience to the table. They won a conference championship last year, so they understand what it takes to win. I’m hoping that they’ll be able to pass that knowledge on to the young ones that are here.”
The new head coach is trying her best to hit the ground running after her late summer hire.
“It’s definitely a whirlwind and it’s continued to be one, so far,” Hahn said. “I’m starting to understand the system a little bit better and that’s just gonna take some time.”
As for the returners Hahn will look toward? There are four of them: two in their sophomore year, Tara Donaho and Dominique Ibarra. The two juniors, Dominique Esparza and Doris Aleksovska, represent the only upperclassmen on the eight-member roster.
For the men’s tennis team, things are changing as well, again. Over the last three seasons transition is about the only thing that’s stayed constant.
This fall, the third head coach in three years will take over the program. Dann Nelson is the new bench boss of the tennis team, replacing Brett Bernstein after less than a year.
Elliot Johnstone, who is a junior in his third year, meaning he’s had a new coach at the start of every year he’s been in Edinburg. The Australian continues to play his game, learning from each coach.
“You want to get used to the first and get to know them, then they go on,” Johnstone said. “Each different coach has their own technique, own tactics, own mentality, so it’s good to hear from different people. Just hopefully, he stays for [my] last year, as well, to get two years in a row.”
Tennis will also have to cope with losing its best player over the past couple of years, Juan Cruz Soria. Without Soria on the team, UTRGV will be without a senior, putting a premium on leadership from juniors Johnstone and Koby Jansen.
“There’s two juniors on the team, Koby, who’s actually injured now, so it’s hard for him to show leadership on court. So I got to show a bit of responsibility and take the [underclassmen] under my wing,” Johnstone said.
Coach Nelson joins the Vaquero staff after spending his last 11 seasons at Southern Illinois University. He leaves SIU as its second winningest coach in program history.
“I was at SIU for 11 years and was used to things. But things change, life happens and I’m here now and I’m excited to be here now,” Nelson said.
His energy will have to be divided among a few different tasks this fall. He will need to add members to the tennis team to flesh out the roster that has only five players.
“We do have a small roster, but hopefully it doesn’t stay like that,” the new head coach said. “I’m working hard to bring new guys in and look at the talent that’s already here. In the fall, we need to get our conditioning levels up. We’re spending a lot of time getting our rhythm back. We need legs and we need lungs in the fall to get ready for the spring.”
It will be a year to overcome adversity for sure but men’s tennis will have this semester to get into form for the most important part of the year, conference in spring.