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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

First year players lead women's tennis team

Anyone who has watched the Dartmouth women's tennis team this fall on the Topliff courts certainly noticed some new faces. "Zeroes" Michelle Bray, Rebecca Dirksen, Jennifer Lange and Allison Taff all come from what Head Coach Chris Kerr calls "an excellent recruiting year."

Along with five upperclassmen, Big Green women's tennis has already tripled last year's win total with a competitive 3-2 record in the 1996 fall season. Kerr points to the freshmen as key catalysts to this drastic change in performance from last year.

"My new girls are excellent," she said. "But it is not just their talent that has improved our team. It is the new team morale. There seems to be a really strong bond between the four new girls and their older teammates. Our camaraderie will take us a long way."

The fabulous four, including three from California, all held national rankings in their junior careers and emphasize the difficult transition from high school to college tennis.

"In high school, it was hard to find people to play with," Dirksen said. "The team bonding was not that strong because we were all at different levels. Here, though, everyone is competitive. It is so easy to play here because it is fun. I am confident that our loyalty will carry us a long way."

While Dirksen and Lange knew each other in Northern California tennis, Bray comes from Southern California and Taff, a Massachusetts native, represents the east coast. Taff stresses the difficulty of playing Division One tennis in its competitiveness.

"In junior tennis, there are good players and there are okay players," she said. "In our fall matches, all of my opponents were extremely tough. The game is at a new level for me now where I need to want to win. My skills won't get me there. Mental tennis and strategy are very important here."

Although the freshmen performed excellently in the fall, Kerr said there is still a lot of room for improvement.

"We had a good fall season with two losses that could have been wins," she said. "We lost a couple of extremely close matches against Boston College and Boston University that were the deciders. As the freshmen and the other members of our extremely young team get older, they will learn how to pull out the big wins. It all comes in time."

In fact, without the aid of their wiser teammates, Taff believes that success would be extremely difficult.

"The great thing about being a freshman," she said, "is that there are tons of older players to help us. They know how to combat certain styles of play. Tennis is an never-ending learning process where there are several styles of play. In tennis, we benefit from the older players, and they can also learn some new stuff from us."

With the fall season dual-matches completed, Kerr sees a completely different team than last year.

"Last year we went 1-11. When I look it that record, it looks like we did not have enough talent to win, but that was not the case," Kerr said. "This year, the team is very energetic and the freshmen have given a new vitality to our program. This is not to say that they single-handedly have changed us, but their competitive spirit has been extremely encouraging."

Used to winning in high school and junior tournaments, the freshmen girls jumped right into Dartmouth with a positive attitude.

"In the fall, we all had to figure out what we were going to contribute the team," Bray said. "We all are very interested and motivated so success has come as a team. We now understand each other so well that we should be competitive this spring."

The 'shmen have certainly contributed in both the singles and doubles competition with Dirksen, Taff, Bray and Lange playing one, two, five, and six singles, respectively. In doubles competition, Lange and Taff play two doubles together, while Dirksen plays one and Bray plays three.

Bray and Dirksen pay tribute to their teammates for helping them along. Dirksen's partner, Captain Kallie Buehler '97 has certainly provided a wealth of insight and experience. "Kallie is an excellent player," Dirksen said, "and keeps me positive and focused. I am really learning a lot."

All four rookies believe that without the confidence and interest of their teammates, this abrupt change in tennis would not have been possible.

"I have some friends who are playing tennis at other schools that are not happy because they don't like their teammates," Taff said. "I couldn't imagine playing with girls cooler than the ones here at Dartmouth. It has been a rewarding experience for us all."

When the spring season begins in late March, expect to see a very poised and talented team.

"With our new additions and returning veterans, Dartmouth College tennis should be prepared to crack back into the top sixteen in Eastern Tennis. We will be ready for anyone."