Air Force women's tennis: Concentration on the court

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
The Academy's women's tennis team has made a lot of racket lately, holding a 12-5 record this season, winning eight straight matches and defeating the University of Colorado for the first time in 15 years.

Cadet 1st Class Hannah Dake can't tell you the number of hours she's spent on the tennis court perfecting a shot.

Repetition after repetition, the Air Force women's tennis team captain positions her feet, angles her racquet and fixates on the ball to master a fierce and flawless stroke.

"Being a tennis player, like any sport takes dedication," Dake said. "The mental game of tennis is extremely challenging. Coaches say that tennis is 90 percent mental. When you're on the court, you don't have a coach out there telling you exactly what to do. You need to come up with a strategy yourself."

Dake is one of three seniors on the team who ranked in the top 25 recruiting class for tennis in Divisions I, II and III and in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schools for women's tennis.

"I think we all work really hard individually which makes us work hard together in practice," said Cadet 2nd Class Christine Molina, who plays number one singles and number two doubles on the team. "We started out really strong this season, we had a lot of energy and won the matches we were supposed to. I think that has given us a lot of confidence going into our conference matches."

The young women are truly amazing, Dake said.

"Everyone brings out their best effort to the court," she said. "The team has great sportsmanship and has been complemented many times on our composure and attitude. We feed off each other's energy and have a great time."

The season will wrap up April 28 at the Mountain West Conference championships here. The team has so far achieved their goal this season of winning 11 or more non-conference matches and are now in the beginning of MWC play, with one more win giving them a winning record for the fourth-consecutive year, said Kim Gidley, head coach of the team.

"April is our 'March Madness' month," Gidley said. "When we compete against teams, we want to be the team that everyone hates to play because we make you have to beat us. We want to have more energy, be more fit, disciplined and show them how much we love to compete and have fun doing it."

Gidley said what sets the Academy apart from other schools is that it's a military institution with demanding academics. She said the girls are expected to participate in military training during the summer, where other schools have the summers off to train and compete in tennis.

"We typically have a tutor on the road with us to keep up our academics," Gidley said. "The girls graduate in four years for our sport, averaging 16 credit hours or more, where at most other schools they graduate in five years or more, averaging 12 credit hours in the spring."

Gidley has coached women's tennis here for 15 seasons and is the first civilian head coach in the history of the program.

"I enjoy seeing the cadets grow, sometimes on a daily basis," Gidley said. "The time goes by fast, but the memories last forever."

Molina said she thinks people underestimate the athleticism required to play a match.

"Our team works really hard on the physical aspect," she said. "We're in the gym all the time lifting weights and doing sprints. I don't think a lot of people realize that to play an entire tennis match, you've got to have a lot of endurance."

A match can last up to four hours, Molina said.

"That's a really long time to keep your concentration," she said. "If you lose concentration for just one game, it can turn the whole match around. You have to stay focused and execute your strategy well."

Gidley said one misconception is that fans can't get into a tennis match like they can at a basketball game.

"In college, tennis is a team sport and fans can cheer or paint their bodies if they'd like," Gidley said. "It can be fun for the fans to watch tennis; they don't have to sit there and be quiet."

Dake said tennis is a unique because it's both an individual and a team sport.

"When you're out on the court playing singles, you're on your own," Dake said. "You can't sub out if you're having a bad day because you're responsible for your match and it contributes to the team score. Your team is counting on you."

Tennis has made me realize that if you want to do something you have to work for it, Molina said.

"When I was in high school my goal was to play college tennis," Molina said. "I didn't realize it took so much work, especially at the Academy, to be on the team and be able to compete with other schools. You have to be disciplined. Pretty much anything in life you want to achieve, you have to work for."

Tennis is a great lifetime sport and a way to make connections, Dake said.

"I hope to join a U.S. Tennis Association league once I'm settled down," Dake said. "I will definitely miss the competitiveness of collegiate tennis."

The team's last two non-tournament home matches will be on April 12 and 14. The Academy will also host the Men's and Women's MWC championships April 25-28.