Matthew Breault, Assistant Sports Editor
The 2020-2021 Utica College Women’s Tennis team had its most successful season ever. After finishing the regular season 4-2, the Pioneers qualified for the Empire 8 Tournament for the first time since 2006.
In the first round of the Empire 8 Tournament on March 30, the Pioneers defeated Hartwick College 8-1. This marks the first time in Utica College women’s tennis history when the team advanced to the semifinals of the E8 Tournament. Despite the team’s best efforts in the semifinals of the tournament on Thursday, April 1, the Pioneers were edged out by the No. 2 seed St. John Fisher Cardinals 5-4.
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The lack of experience on the Pioneers’ roster did not negatively impact the team. The team’s roster consists of four underclassmen, one junior, Haley Dekin who is playing in her first season, and one graduate student, Bianca Bockhaus. At the season’s end, the team’s best performers were freshmen Ellen Collie (8-0) and Ellen Lyga (7-1) and sophomore Morgan Willis (7-0). The Pioneers as a whole finished the season 5-3.
In her first season with the Pioneers, Lyga has been quite successful. The local product from New Hartford and Notre Dame High School earned the Empire 8 Conference Women’s Tennis Player of the Week award on Monday, March 22. With her many achievements in her freshman season, Lyga understands the added pressure she faces, but she doesn’t plan on backing down to that pressure anytime soon.
“I do feel like my season added a little pressure on me,” Lyga said. “When I start a season off well, my goal is to continue to do well throughout the entire season. I’ve always dealt with pressure the same way, just hitting the shots I know I can hit well and blocking out all of the distractions once I am on the court.”
Another young Pioneer who has been successful during her first collegiate tennis season also coincidentally shares a name with her teammate Lyga. Freshman Ellen Collie has also been making a name for herself for the Pioneers’ women’s tennis team. Collie, a native of Harbor Springs, Michigan who attended Harbor Springs High School, has also done her best to avoid succumbing to the pressure she faces.
“At the beginning of the season, I honestly didn’t feel much pressure,” Collie said. “As the season progressed, I started to get extremely nervous because I doubted my abilities. Once I started playing, I forgot how nervous I was and played my normal game.”
Despite the loss to St. John Fisher, the young and talented tennis players are still holding their heads up high. After finishing the most successful season in the team’s history, it’s great for them to look back on a season that very well could have been canceled because of COVID-19.
“My favorite part about the season was getting out there and competing,” Lyga said. “I’ve always been a competitor on the court, and between doubles and singles, I’ve had a lot of fun playing hard and having a successful season.”
When it comes to competing in doubles play, both of the Ellen’s on the Pioneers’ roster also happen to be doubles partners. The “Ellen2” duo finished the season 6-2 as doubles partners.
Collie was another one of the Pioneers that enjoyed their rookie season.
“My favorite part about the season was making new friends on both the women’s and men’s teams,” Collie said. “I’m also very proud to be a part of making history for this school and I hope it will inspire a few others to join the team because of it.”
As the Pioneers’ historic season comes to an end, it is important to note that five out of the six members of the team will be returning for next season. Another member of the young team that is returning that wasn’t previously mentioned is Michela Marturano, who is a first-year player from Syracuse.
The Utica College women’s tennis team may have completed their most successful season on the court, but they also did something off the court that many teams couldn’t do. The women’s tennis team completed their season without one of its players testing positive or having to quarantine because of COVID-19. The players attribute this to the successful season.
“The tennis team was very careful when it came to COVID-19 and we were very lucky to complete our season without any cases,” Collie said. “With a team of six players, having one person quarantine would automatically lose two points because of the lack of players we have since six players make up a full team. We were very fortunate to be able to play in all of our matches and not forfeit one game due to COVID.”