In any sport, it can be hard to consistently beat one team. You can take a look at football for example. In 2020, the San Francisco 49ers dominated the Los Angeles Rams in both of their matchups in the regular season. When the playoffs hit, the Rams were able to squeak out a victory that sent them to the Super Bowl.
The Rock was not as lucky as the Rams when it came to their matchups against Indiana (Pa.) in 2022 though. Slippery Rock ran through the rest of the PSAC, but they couldn’t take down their archrival. They saw their hopes for the PSAC title fade away during a 4-1 loss. Just a week later, they bowed out of the playoffs when their shot at revenge ended just as quickly as it began.
They did not have to wait too long to get back onto the court. Things were different and there were some new faces, but those losses did not leave their minds.
“We had a good fall. The freshmen that we had became non-freshmen, if I can put it that way,” head coach Matt Meredith said.
The fall season is used mostly to prepare teams for the spring, but every year The Rock uses the fall as a measuring stick for what they want to do. Whether that means who they want to run doubles together or something else.
In between, The Rock welcomed a new freshman. Dari Sakhanova joined the squad and has already been able to make an impact. While the majority of the team is foreign, Sakhanova hails from Moscow, Russia. She is the only player on the team from that side of the world.
But Meredith explained that it does not make much of a difference, because she is used to being in a new place and she is a great fit.
“The fun part is she spent about a year and a half in Barcelona, Spain, so she’s very familiar with the Spanish culture and she fits in tremendously,” Meredith said. “Her first semester she was at Weatherford, a juco in Texas, so it’s interesting, but she is fitting in great and has worked out very well.”
She comes into a team that already has some set leaders in place. The captains of the team this season are Gabriela del Val del Toro and Adriana Gonzalez Sanchez. Both made a huge splash last year, and both will look to try to do the same this year.
“The plan [is to have different people take over the leader role each year], it’s tremendous to have them and have leadership from them,” Meredith said. “It’s great to have that leadership carry on, because part of our success is our leaders being able to learn from the last person and carry it on.”
Del Val del Toro absolutely manhandled competition last year. She held an overall record of 26-6 in singles matches, while posting a 6-0 record in PSAC west play. She also recorded a 14-13 doubles record. Sanchez had a 15-14 singles record, but in doubles she competed with Lois Page, and they posted a 20-11 record together. Overall Sanchez went 21-11 in doubles.
Both del Val del Toro and Sanchez are the seniors on the team this year. While they can both use a fifth year of eligibility, Meredith made it clear that both will be treated as seniors.
At this point, Meredith already has his doubles set for the season. He will be running Sanchez and Teddi Isherwood together in the one slot, del Val del Toro and Nuria Martin Lopez in the two and finally it will be Georgie Lancaster and Sakhanova in the third spot.
“The good thing is my number two team had a good run at the PSAC and they ended up second at the PSAC last fall,” Meredith said. “They’re definitely going to stay together, but getting the other teams acclimated is going to be different, but I like where we’re at right now.”
Meredith still is not fully set on those teams because he expects some things to possibly change, but as of now he said that those are the teams that he is going to run with.
“They’re pretty much set, but if something needs to change, it’ll change,” Meredith said.
The Rock had their first matchup of the season last week against Carnegie Mellon University. They dropped their first matchup of the season 6-1, but the matchup got them prepared for what they will see for the rest of the spring.
“We play the teams we do to prepare for the PSAC, last week we played one of the top teams in the Pittsburgh area in Carnegie Mellon, who is a top team in the country,” Meredith said. “We play St. Bonaventure next and our southern tour we play three really good Div. II teams.”
The spring break trip will feature them playing four different teams with two from Texas and two from Florida. However, the competition is exactly what they want so they ready when the time comes.
“All of our out of conference games are preparing us to get ready for our matches in the PSAC,” Meredith said. “We could take the easy route and try to build up our win-loss record against teams that aren’t very good, but that’s not how we want to do it.”
But the sting from last year still remains. The goal remains: trying to get back to the PSAC tournament. This time around, they want to be able to take home the title, just as every other team does. But in order to do that, they will still need to make some strides.
“We always want to try to win the PSAC, that’s goal number one every year and our second goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament,” Meredith said. “Those are our goals every year inside and out.”