Illini women’s tennis reflects on refreshing trips

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Junior Jaclyn Switkes serves the ball during the match against Furman on Feb. 10, 2018.

By Wes Hollenberg, Staff Writer

As the 2017-2018 Illinois women’s tennis team approached an all-time high for the program, the players grew weary. By mid-March, Illinois had soared out to a 12-2 start, but it came at a cost due to their grueling schedule that included five top-25 teams, along with various tournaments, which often required playing three matches in the same weekend.

Although the team had an excellent record, the increasing fatigue quickly became clear after Illinois’ sloppy 4-3 home loss to Northwestern on March 2. With cracks beginning to form in the team’s foundation, head coach Evan Clark had planned the perfect antidote: a team trip.

As Illinois students went home for spring break, the tennis team boarded a plane bound for Hawaii. The team spent a week bonding and relaxing on beaches. They also had time to fit in a low-stakes 5-0 win over the University of Hawaii.

“I think that was a good break for us,” said Jaclyn Switkes, an Illinois graduate student who played a pivotal role on that team. “We’ve been playing (and) playing (and) playing and then we went to Hawaii. We spent a few days to relax. I think that was a good break for us, a well-deserved rest at mid-season.”

According to Switkes, the trip had an immeasurable impact on the team. During the season, tennis players normally have to spend their weeks focusing on doing everything they can to rest and prepare their bodies for their next match. The team trip provided Switkes an opportunity to break out of that cycle and reflect on her play to clear her head in a way she isn’t typically able to do.

After their trip to Hawaii, the Illini rattled off three straight victories, including two against Big Ten opponents.

Because team trips aid athletes physically and mentally, Illinois has made them common practice for the tennis team.

Typically, the team alternates between taking a preseason training trip and a spring break trip every year. The preseason trip can be important for transitioning younger players into the program, along with ensuring the players are in shape heading into the season.

Due to the younger nature of the roster this past season, Illinois opted to take the preseason trip.

“I think (the preseason training trip is) really important, especially given the years that we do it,” Clark said. “We had three freshmen this past year. I thought it was important to do that because they’re obviously younger and haven’t been around as much. Heading into their spring season, I think it’s important. For a veteran group, I don’t think it is as much, but when you have a young group I think it’s even more important.”

Although the tone of both the preseason and spring trips are similar in terms of fostering team chemistry, they usually differ in structure because, by spring break, the team is already in tennis shape and doesn’t need as much focus on intense workouts.

“It’s a little bit different,” Clark said. “There’s not as much training involved because we’ve already been training and usually we’re playing competition matches. We’re playing at least one or two real matches on those trips. It’s usually in March. In January when we get started we’re usually not playing another team. The whole point of it is to get out of Champaign and get someplace nice with a change of scenery and try to enjoy each other for a week.”

The spring break trip also has a crucial secondary benefit: preparing the team for outdoor tennis.

“Spring break is very common for midwestern and northern schools because they just don’t get to play outside tennis,” Clark said. “That’s the whole deal before spring break is that you’ve been indoors the whole year and so March comes around, you want to get outside and play outdoor tennis in hopes that the Big Ten schedule after you get back is going to be outside in March and April.”

The team typically goes to Florida for their preseason trip, although they have varied their spring break trips over the past few years, traveling to Hawaii, California and Orlando, Florida.

Given how effective team trips have been for the Illini, it’s no surprise they have become common practice within college tennis. According to Clark, trips are effective because tennis teams are small enough to easily travel and cultivate strong bonds among the entire team.

“It’s super important for every team,” Switkes said. “Any season that you’re having, just to have a few days or at least one weekend to just not play any matches and regroup mentally and physically because it’s very hard playing every weekend back to back.”

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