Anchored by seasoned returners and energized by the largest freshman class in the program’s history, the Women’s Tennis team is shaping up to hit the court running this spring. The team, which had a 7-10 record last year, has new fire in the form of six new freshman players, who, according to Head Coach Paul Gastonguay, make up the largest group of first-years the team has ever seen.
Gastonguay, who has been coaching for 18 years, is especially excited about the first-years.
“This group is very athletic and competitive,” he said. “[They] share the same qualities our returners have—they love training and finding a way to get better.”
The head coach’s words reflect the freshmen class’ thinking—all of the players mentioned their desire to improve over the course of this year.
Grace Kennedy ’23 has played tennis since she was young. “My dad played growing up and in college,” she explained. “My favorite part about playing at Bates is the team. Everyone supports each other on and off the court and makes it focused but [still] fun.”
Laura Littlefield, another first-year, shared similar sentiments. “I hope to improve my doubles game and become closer with my teammates,” she said. “I enjoy being part of a team and having my teammates to rely on.”
Littlefield started playing tennis in the seventh grade after her parents signed her up for tennis camp. Like Kennedy, her dad playing tennis was a big influence on her choice to play the sport.
Teammate Abby Zerbey ’23 also started playing because of her parent, although unlike her teammates, her tennis career began when she was just four years old.
“I started to play because my mom also played and I used to go and watch all of her matches,” she said. “I wanted to give it a try as well.”
Zerbey’s goal for this year is to start in some of the upcoming season matches. She enjoys being on the team because of the competitive play.
“I love the competition,” she said. “At my old school, I wasn’t really challenged on my team but here I get to compete and learn new things every day in practice.”
Similarly to Abby, Victoria Scott ‘21 loves the high-level play at Bates.
“My favorite part about playing tennis at Bates is the intensity and love for the game that is shared by everyone the team,” Scott said.
Scott added that during her freshman season, she’s hoping to “improve [her] own game and contribute to the overall success of the team.”
She started playing when she was six years old and quickly became invested in the sport.
“When I was younger, I wanted to try every sport I could,” she said. “I ended up loving tennis and just stuck with it.”
One sentiment shared by all of the players was their respect for the upperclassmen on the team. The role that the experienced players have is key, according to Coach Gastonguay.
“Our veteran players are very good role models,” he said. “They were instrumental in building our inclusive culture which attracted this first-year class to Bates in the first place. I am so grateful to have such a special group of captains that really care about everyone on the team.”
Gastonguay added that the upperclassmen have already taught the first-years how to manage their schedules as well.
“They have modeled how to control the things they can control in their daily lives which allows them to be successful on and off the court,” he said. “Our upperclassmen have already infused the first years with their passion to be the best they can be and the hard work and dedication that it takes to get there.”
The recruiting process, which the upperclassmen help with, is instrumental to finding players that are not only talented but also fit the Bates community.
Gastonguay recruits at various showcases and tournaments throughout the summer, as well as coaching at college exposure camps.
“Attitude and work ethic [are] everything in college tennis and I am able to work with some amazing athletes,” he said. “I want to coach athletes who are open to new ideas and not afraid to fail. Those are the athletes that become elite competitors in our program.”
Gastonguay is looking forward to the spring season and is hoping for continued success within the program.
“We had a strong start to the year because of our inspirational leaders and the influx of a talented first year class,” he said. “It is a blast coaching this team and I can’t wait for the spring—I know everyone will continue to work hard and be ready!”
The women’s team kicks off the spring season with their annual training trip to Florida, where they open with a game against the University of Tampa on Feb. 18, followed by Rollins College on Feb. 20.