After a handful of seasons languishing in the middle of the pack of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), the Slippery Rock University tennis team has put together one the most complete regular seasons in head coach Matt Meredith’s two decades with the team.
However, this team has a long way to go before being declared his best ever.
“It has to be one of the top five, if not top two or three teams [I’ve ever coached], but the story isn’t done yet. In a year, you can ask me that question,” Meredith said.
With the No. 1 seed in the PSAC-West clinched, an unbeaten conference record secured for the first time since 2003 and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament on the way, Meredith credits the team’s depth in having players capable of winning the PSAC Championship.
“The depth of this team,” Meredith said. “Everyone on the team is doing well individually. Everyone on the team is above .500 winning percentage and that’s impressive. They’ve all been successful; they all have winning records and they’ve all put this together as a team.”
With a first-round bye in the PSAC Tournament allowing SRU to avoid a challenging matchup with Indiana University (Pa.) or Mercyhurst University, according to Meredith, the team will be afforded a few extra days of rest and preparation of ahead of Friday’s PSAC semifinals.
With the tournament being held in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania this year, junior Lacey Cohen will have the opportunity to win the PSAC singles championships, which she did back in October, and the PSAC team championship on the same courts.
Regular season success aside, The Rock have zero guaranteed postseason successes. While SRU has a sparkling 9-1 record at the SRU Tennis Courts, its 3-4 road record and 2-3 neutral site record do not inspire confidence.
Millersville University will play Bloomsburg University Tuesday evening to determine who will move on to the semifinals against SRU. Meredith explained how despite not knowing their opponent yet, his game plan is business as usual.
“Looking at both teams, we’ve played Millersville. We’ve seen what they’re like. Looking at Bloomsburg, I know how well they’re coached. They have a very good coach and I know he’ll have them prepared,” Meredith said.
After picking up crucial PSAC-West wins over Mercyhurst, the yearly favorite to win the division, and Edinboro University earlier in April, SRU rattled off four consecutive division wins over the past week and a half to clinch the No. 1 seed.
In that winning streak, an away win against IUP for the first time in nearly a decade instilled a lot of confidence to the squad, according to Meredith.
“The win against IUP was a program biggie, to say the least. Having not beaten them since 2010, getting that was crucial for us. We beat them when they were at full strength, which was huge,” Meredith said.
Wins against PSAC rivals Mercyhurst and IUP along with closely contested matches against regional powerhouses such as West Virginia State University and the University of Charleston showcased how mental fortitude has been a large factor in picking up big wins.
“Believing in one’s ability is definitely a big part of that,” Meredith said. “We’ve worked hard, and this is a good team. I’ve been saying that all along. We came together as a team and they worked extremely hard. The maturity as the season went helped a big part of it.”
Belief in one’s ability only takes a team so far as SRU must now win consecutive matches against the best the PSAC has to offer. Beating the same team twice in one season is never guaranteed but Meredith is confident all-around team play will win out.
“That’s how we’ve won, we’ve won as a team. It hasn’t always been one person dominating, it’s come from different areas,” Meredith said.
Regardless of resulting play in the PSAC Tournament, The Rock will have a few days after commencement to prepare for the Atlantic Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Coincidently, the last time SRU advanced past the first round in 2011, its season record was 15-7.
“We’ve got regionals coming up, too, right after commencement,” Meredith said. “Maybe we’ll host here; we put in for the bid, but we don’t know if that’s happening yet. Regardless, we’ll prepare for that, but we have to get through this week first.”
While Meredith was unwilling to declare this year’s team as his best yet, he could not deny the fun he has experienced leading this team.
“As for how much I like this team and how hard they work, it’s probably my number one team,” Meredith said. “That’s saying something because I’ve had some really good teams here. This team works hard, they get along well, and they do the things they need to do to push forward and get things done.”
The only thing to do now is win.