Sports Contact: J.T. Wilcox, Sports Information Director
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 3, 2019
For some coaches, bringing a third-place trophy back to campus after a national tournament would be a pretty decent accomplishment. The trophy would probably be placed somewhere to serve as a constant reminder of the work that went into earning that trophy.
For ASA Miami women’s tennis coach Brian Slack, the third-place trophy his team was given at the 2018 NJCAA National Tennis Tournament, was a point of contention and it sat perched atop Slack’s personal desk to serve as a constant reminder of the shortcoming and as motivation to never receive another.
That’s the carrot that has been dangled out in front of Slack and his players and it will serve as a big motivator as the team prepares to play for a national crown at the 2019 NJCAA National Women’s Tennis Tournament in Tyler, Texas May 5-10.
Slack said he hasn’t touched the third-place trophy since he sat it there nearly a year ago.
“No other trophy has been on my desk except for the third-place trophy,” Slack said. “I haven’t touched it since we received it. I’m forced to see it every day, the kids see it every day that they’re in my office and they know it. It sits there…that’s the motivation. That’s the reason why we’re getting better every single day.”
Winning on the national stage is something that the ASA Miami women have done in the past. Slack guided the Lady Silver Storm to an NJCAA crown in 2016; ASA Miami’s women also earned the national runner-up spot in 2017 – making. Add in the fact that Slack had just come off of leading ASA College-New York’s women’s team to back-to-back national titles in 2015 and 2014 and it’s understandable why 2018’s slip to No. 3 was so stinging.
In response to being called “third best”, Slack brought in a new totally new crop of girls for the 2019 season and it has yielded tangible and substantial dividends. ASA Miami will roll in the national tournament with an 18-4 regular season record and was the No. 1 ranked team in the country in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings.
The talent of Slack’s team, which is completely made up of freshmen, is undeniable, but having so many fresh faces that have never “been there and done that” on the college level came with its own set of challenges this year.
“Being all freshmen, the biggest thing was trying to get them to understand – at the beginning of the year – that you didn’t have to play your best tennis in January, February, or March. It matters what you do in April and May,” Slack said. “And it can be tough for them to understand because they’ve never been through it.”
“I think we played our best tennis at the regional tournament – which means we were peaking at the right time. Getting them to understand that was the biggest challenge but they started to realize it towards the end,” Slack added.
ASA Miami did put on quite a dominant performance at the women’s Region VIII tournament at the end of April, winning 26 out of a possible 27 points to capture their third regional title in the past four years.
But a regional title wouldn’t be worth a hill of beans if the Lady Silver Storm don’t perform well in Texas – something Slack said he’s been trying to make sure wouldn’t happen.
“I just wanted to keep them locked in,” Slack said. “We had three weeks of practice to get ready for nationals on top of closing out the semester academically – taking care of finals. It was tricky because, again, they’re freshmen.”
Just because his team is full of freshmen, Slack didn’t pull any punches when making his 2019 schedule. From playing in multiple fall invitationals to going toe-to-toe with a handful of four-year programs, the Lady Silver Storm is a battle-tested bunch. Over the first 11 days of March, ASA Miami went on the road for seven different matches – first a three-day span that included a trip to the USTA National Tennis Center and a four-day stay in Pensacola, Florida where the Lady Silver Storm won matches against Abraham-Baldwin Agricultural College, Seward County Community College, Cowley County Community College, and Tyler Junior College.
The Pensacola trip is where Slack said he saw his team start to turn the corner.
“When we went to Pensacola in March. We played the No. 1 team at the time – Tyler – we played Seward…a mix of who we’re going to see at Nationals. And when we came back home we played the No. 3 team at the time in Hillsborough Community College and won,” Slack recalled. That middle-of-March stretch was the turning point. Because they started to believe a little bit because the girls took care of business in a sense and they started to play the ASA tennis that we’re accustomed to.”
Winning a national title this week will mean that the tight-knit team strings together strong individual performances.
Slack did praise one player in particular for her improvements up to this point in the season before outlining the achievements of his group.
“Soomin has gotten a lot better from the time she stepped foot on campus in September to now,” Slack said. “She’s going to be a big part of us winning a national championship. But I have a group that has stuck together. Ji Youn [Lee] down at six is a lock, every single match where you know you’re getting that point. Zulay [Castaneda] had to step into a big spot, going from out of the lineup to the No. 4 four spot. Tatiana [Simova] has been rock solid at No. 2. Irina [Lapustina] has gotten a lot better – on and off the court – and she’s starting to figure out her game of what she can do and when she can go big. And Michaela [Krauskova] has found her groove and is locking in mentally point by point.”
“I feel good. The six girls that we’re going to nationals with are the six that have locked in and given everything for the team the entire year,” Slack added.
There is one part of the national tournament slate, however, that Slack knows is going to go a long way to determining the champion.
“Doubles. Doubles is always the biggest thing,” Slack quipped.
“It’s the second match of the day. We’ve always been in it, we’ve always competed well, we’ve always played at a high level in the doubles. Last year was the first time since I took over the program at ASA New York in 2012 that we didn’t have a team in the doubles final. We lost in the semis at two spots and it was the first time ever. And the point totals showed it because we finished third in the country.”
“So, doubles will be a big key in what we do over the next week.”