Riding win streak, tennis presses on

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“I don’t worry about record,” said six-time PSAC Coach of the Year Matt Meredith. “I worry about results at the end of the year.”

Even after commencing the season with a pair of losses in February and early March, Meredith was thankful that his team was going to be able to get back to competition. Although the expectations for tangible hardware haven’t changed, to Meredith the appreciation for competition is visible.

“I was happy we were playing tennis,” Meredith said. “I was thrilled to death that, regardless of what happens, we were actually going to get play.”

Having emerged victorious in its last three matches, the team has climbed to second in the PSAC West standings. This, Meredith believes, is right where the team needs to be.

After stumbling out of the gate by dropping matches four of its first five matches, Slippery Rock has rallied, putting itself in a favorable position as the season progresses. The team’s 4-4 record is misleading, Meredith says. He knows the level of competition that the team faces and the early non-division challenges pay dividends.

“I’m not looking to go out and play the simplest teams I can,” Meredith said. “That doesn’t get you anywhere. We want to play the best competition, because it’s going to get us ready later on […] I’m not going to go out and pad my record. That’s not what we do here.”

A pair of Spanish transfers in Adriana Gonzalez Sanchez and Gabi del Val del Toro have been instrumental, as of late.

All through last March and April, Meredith gave his pitches to prospects, hoping they’d choose to attend Slippery Rock. No easy task, said Meredith. Luckily, long-distance communication wasn’t anything new to him.

“I’m sitting around, not being able to actually go out and recruit, normally,” Meredith said. “I mean, I still do a lot of this because, [with] international kids, it’s not like I’m going across seas to do that.”

If recent play is any indicator, Gonzalez Sanchez and del Val del Toro, both second-year freshmen, have grown comfortable at the Rock.

“They’re both phenomenal,” Meredith said. “They’re making impacts for us and they’re fitting in our system really well.”

A physics major, Gonzalez Sanchez landed in Slippery Rock after Meredith sent her a letter, letting her know what a good fit he thought she would be. She first attended Saint Louis University, competing mainly in its top doubles flight. As a Billiken, she twice earned Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors.

Conversely, del Val del Toro was the one to get ahold of Meredith, after a friend of hers within the conference told her about SRU. Originally from Barcelona, she went 7-2 in singles at Coker University before the season was halted by the pandemic.

In the middle of a six-game winning streak in singles outings, Gonzalez Sanchez was named as the PSAC Western Division Athlete of the Week earlier this week. In SRU’s last three matches, Gonzalez Sanchez went a combined 6-0 in singles and doubles bouts. She was the third Rock tennis player to be recognized with the accolade this season, joining del Val del Toro and sophomore Lois Page.

Still around is senior Lacey Cohen, who plays in matches whenever class allows. The most decorated player of the group, with a conference singles championship and a division athlete of the year award to her name, Cohen has won three of her five singles matches this year.

“We don’t have her all the time, but we use her when we can,” Meredith said.

Fellow fourth-year players Amy Varckette and Olivia Warner have combined for victories in eight doubles bouts.

Day in and day out, Meredith said, he encourages his student-athletes to believe in their abilities.

“When you see a team start believing in [itself], that makes it a lot of fun,” Meredith said. “That’s still viable. If you believe in your system, you believe in your teammates, and you believe in what we’re doing, you’re going to accomplish great things.”

Recent play has shown glimpses.

“That […] match against West Virginia State, that proves what we are,” Meredith said. “I hope the other teams take [our record] for granted.”

Brendan is a senior converged journalism major serving his second year on The Rocket staff and his first semester as sports editor. Previously, he served as assistant campus life editor and assistant sports editor. After graduation, he hopes to cover sports for a newspaper or magazine.

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