The Bulldog men and women's tennis teams have been working hard to make this season a success, despite the challenges. Hours of practice are showing results during their matches.
The men's team, currently ranked 24th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), has a record of 11-4 overall and 2-3 in the Southeastern Conference. Matt Roberts is in his seventh season as head coach. Stedman Strickland, a senior from Jackson, Mississippi, noted the team is putting in work to ensure all of the results that they can.
"If we keep controlling what we can control — which is our day-in, day-out — you know, our attitude and how hard we work," Strickland shared. "If we stay organized and keep making good decisions, then we're going to put ourselves in a good spot."
The women's team is currently ranked 36th in the ITA. Sara Lizariturry, from Barcelona, Spain, said something similar to what Strickland shared about the consistency of the men's team for her own team.
"The results will come, for sure," Lizariturry proudly noted. "We have a very good team, and the results will come. Everyone works hard."
The Mississippi State University women's team is currently 9-5 overall and 1-5 in the Southeastern Conference.
Practice keeps the players busy, but according to Lizariturry, now working on her master's degree, it is possible to balance time between school and sports.
"It was definitely tough, but you kind of get used to it. Each player, I think, finds their own way to manage their time," Lizariturry said.
The women's team practices up to six days a week, three hours a day practicing tennis and an hour of workouts. Each player also gets two individual practices with the coach per week. During the season, there are two matches per week. Between seasons, practice does not stop.
The men's team practices five to six days a week depending on matches, with two hours of team practice followed by an hour of alternating conditioning and weights. They also get two individuals and two matches every week.
COVID-19 kept most students away from the tennis matches during the first part of the season. Only 25% capacity was allowed outside and none was allowed inside. With limited outdoor seating and none indoors, there were very few spectators, especially due to weather putting a limit on outdoor play.
Now, with the state mandate lifted, spectator seating at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre is permitted except where MSU and SEC Medical Task Force protocols are in place. Some seating will be allowed indoors.
Both teams utilize the A.J. Pitts Indoor Tennis Centre as well as the new Rula Tennis Pavilion, which was opened in October of 2020. With six courts each and seating of 750 and 250 respectively plus standing room, it is possible for Bulldog tennis to play rain or shine.
The players encourage everyone to come and watch them play now that the stands have been reopened.
A member of the men's tennis team, Seth Richey, a freshman from Memphis, Tennessee, encouraged fans to come attend games now that the mandate has changed.
"You don't have to know a thing about tennis to show up to the matches and have a good time," Richey said. "It's a good atmosphere. You get to see some really top level tennis."
Strickland agreed with his fellow Bulldog about fans making games more fun for the players.
"The more people the better," Strickland said. "That's what college tennis is all about. It's supposed to be tough for the away team."
Men's tennis plays at home again on March 20 against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and women's tennis takes on the University of South Carolina in Starkville, Mississippi, on March 25.