Without a senior on the roster, Loras College women’s tennis coach Chad Fenwick wasn’t sure what to expect from his team this fall.
One thing he was certain of, though, was that his roster was talented.
“It’s been great. We had five freshmen come in this year and it’s a breath of fresh air,” Fenwick said. “They’re good kids, they’re fun to be around, and the culture of the team this year has just been a lot of fun. They’re working hard and this has been a fun team to coach this year.”
Led by a pair of juniors from Dubuque Wahlert that anchor the top of the lineup in No. 1 Audrey Hinz and No. 2 Meghann Long, the Duhawks boast one more junior, two sophomores and five freshmen on a roster that has performed above its expectations this season.
Following a 9-0 victory over city rival University of Dubuque on Tuesday at Tucker Courts, the Duhawks (10-1, 7-1) locked up a second-place finish in the American Rivers Conference behind league unbeaten Luther.
“I don’t know if we were thinking we’d be second in the conference, but we were definitely feeling pretty good about the team,” said Hinz, a former all-state talent for the Golden Eagles who’s in her third year as No. 1 for the Duhawks. “We were excited about all the freshmen coming in. In the first week, we did a lot of team bonding and formed a really good connection with everyone. We’ve been having fun at practice and seeing a lot of success on the court. Once our record kept getting better and winning more and more, we knew we could do this and just wanted to keep it going.”
Hinz teamed with Noely Baumann for an 8-6 victory at No. 1 doubles over UD’s Ashley Palacios-Quinonez and Hailey Wang. Long joined Maddie Smith for an 8-3 win at No. 3 doubles over Samantha Heins and Patient Jabbah. Long topped Palacios-Quinonez at No. 1 singles, 6-4, 6-1, with Hinz taking singles off.
“Audrey’s a two-year all-conference player for us,” Fenwick said. “She’s a good, solid player for us that anchors the lineup. She’s really developed into a good leader.
“Meghann has really come a long way as far as her skill level. She’s very fit and runs all over town, an avid runner. She’s got endurance and has come so far in the three years that she’s been here. It’s nice having some local talent really helping us out.”
The chemistry developed by the Wahlert grads over the years has led to a positive combination of leaders for the younger Duhawks.
“It’s definitely fun,” Hinz said. “This will be our seventh year playing together. We’ll tell the girls stories in the van of what we were like back in high school and some of the craziness, and it’s just fun having a friend like that on the team.”
Each moving up a spot with Hinz off, freshmen Lauren Diiulio (2), Sara Backus (3) and Isabel Schwabe (4) all earned singles wins for the Duhawks against UD, and the young trio have played a key role in Loras’ success this fall.
“I knew talent-wise we’d be deeper than we were last year, but I didn’t know really how good we’d be,” Fenwick said. “The exciting thing for me is that we’re young, we can still get better. We’ll continue to work on things throughout the winter. Ultimately, I knew we had some talent here but I didn’t know where it all mixed in. We’ve got freshmen playing 3, 4 and 5 for us this year. The heart of the lineup at this level is where you win a lot of matches, and they’ve really been a boost for us.”
Along with the Duhawks, the Spartans (1-10, 1-8) will look to finish the season off on a strong note at the A-R-C tournament on Friday and Saturday in Waterloo. Dubuque will graduate two seniors in Palacios-Quinonez (No. 1) and Wang (No. 2).
“We have a very young team,” Spartans coach Dishon Deering said. “We have two seniors that have been with us for four years and we’ve had a great time with them, they’ve both had success. We’re glad to have them. We have freshmen in from California, Milwaukee, and we’re really looking forward to the upcoming years with a good recruiting class and no seniors. So, it only goes up from here.”