Following on from their impressive start to their spring season, the Slippery Rock women’s tennis team have set their sights on the conference championship as they embark on the beginning of their Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) season.
In what is proving to be a talented roster, multiple players have shown their quality thus far, giving The Rock five wins from their opening eight matches. Lois Page secured her 100th win last month, and Teddi Isherwood has enjoyed success in her opening year at The Rock.
Yet, it has been Gabriela Del Val Del Toro who has been particularly influential in the team’s success so far, bringing her season total to thirteen singles wins. Del Val Del Toro believes the fall of 2021 was a vital element in helping her achieve her results up to this point in the season.
“We had a really good season in the fall,” Del Val Del Toro said. “We worked really well together as a team and I gained a lot of confidence from the individual tournaments.”
The fall of 2021 brought four different individual tournaments for women’s tennis. Del Val Del Toro participated in each of them, winning three singles matches at the Oberlin Invitational in September.
Del Val Del Toro, who grew up in Barcelona in the Catalonia region of Spain, also highlights the difference in playing style in the U.S. compared to her homeland.
“The style is very different,” Del Val Del Toro said. “In Spain, there are often long rallies from the baseline with lots of emphasis on groundstrokes, here it is more about coming into the net and being more aggressive with the serve.”
“I have trained all my life in Spain and really like the dynamics there, but I am also aware I need to practice doubles here and to become more aggressive in the way I play,” Del Val Del Toro commented. “Through the manner in which I have trained in Spain, I sometimes have a tendency to stay at the back of the court. That is something I am working on to aid me with my doubles play”.
Whilst Del Val Del Toro will play both indoors and outdoors this spring, she stresses the differences of playing surfaces and environment.
“I prefer clay,” Del Val Del Toro said. “The ball is slower and it allows me to get my groundstrokes cleaner.”
“Where I have grown up and the environment in Spain, most players prefer and are more used to playing on clay.”
Del Val Del Toro is in her second year at Slippery Rock University, having spent her first year in the states at Coker University in South Carolina. Gabriela underlines her coach, Matt Meredith, as playing an important factor in her decision to transfer.
“Slippery Rock has a really good tennis program,” Del Val Del Toro commented. “The coach [Meredith] has a really clear idea of what he wants and has always been able to create competitive teams with there always being the chance to win a conference each year.
“He supports me a lot, is just as competitive as me and we both have the same vision.”
Meredith can also claim credit for his track record of enhancing his players’ all-round games. Del Val Del Toro feels she has bettered herself in contrast to her first year at The Rock.
“I do feel I have improved in doubles particularly,” Del Val Del Toro remarked. “I have worked on my serve a lot and that has definitely helped me.
“My overall game has improved as I am playing in a really competitive team.”
Del Val Del Toro partnered with teammate Teddi Isherwood over spring break, emerging victorious three times as a partnership. The team enjoyed two 7-0 wins over both Shepherd University and George Fox University respectively.
Coach Matt Meredith will be hoping for his team to bring their momentum forwards as they enter a demanding PSAC campaign in which he will often see his team play two times weekly.
Along with fellow teammate Lois Page, Del Val Del Toro is a psychology major at Slippery Rock. Gabriela believes her studies have been pivotal in allowing her to express herself and improve numerous areas of her game.
“Academic wise, the psychology program here is very good,” Del Val Del Toro observed. “I have really realized just how important psychology is in sports.
“It is really important to be able to control your emotions and to be better prepared mentally than your opponent.”
Del Val Del Toro’s bullish performances have also seen her pick up singles wins against Division I opposition Cleveland State University and George Mason University. However, she is quick to point out that the standard of opposition does not faze her.
“I always treat the opponent the same,” Del Val Del Toro said. “Whether my opponent is Division I, Division II or Division III level, I always just try to compete at my best for the team.
“I feel responsibility to perform on each point and the team really motivates me to do that.”
Following on from spring break, Del Val Del Toro received the title of PSAC athlete of the week, the third player from the team to receive the award this semester following Lois Page and Teddi Isherwood. It is the second accolade Del Val Del Toro has won following the 2020-2021 season when she was named as a second team All-PSAC west honoree.
Del Val Del Toro secured 11 victories in singles play in the 2020-2021 season including a winning streak of nine matches. She also confirmed four doubles wins.
The Slippery Rock women’s tennis team hosted their first PSAC match at home when Clarion University of Pennsylvania visited on Wednesday.