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Team unity big part of success for women’s tennis

BY JON FRANK | APRIL 13, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Hawkeyes on the women’s tennis team spend a lot of time together — on the court, in practice, and in their spare time — believing their closeness as teammates and friends gives them an edge on the court.

Ranked No. 22 as of Monday by the International Tennis Association, Iowa’s rating is among the highest in the program’s history. Junior Jessica Young credits a good portion of the Hawkeyes success to solid team dynamics.

Rather than feud over the No. 1 spot in singles play during practice, the players offer words of encouragement and look to one another for strength and motivation.

After finishing their matches, teammates head over to the neighboring courts to cheer on their fellow Hawkeyes.

“For a lot of us, this is the first time being on a team together,” Young said. “In high school, it’s way more of an individual effort. You’re always playing for yourself, and you’re not too concerned with what others are doing.”

Many of the athletes live together, carpool to practice and class, and eat meals full of carbohydrates for energy as a group. For her teammates, junior Lynne Poggensee-Wei makes spinach balls — a combination of bread, cheese, spinach, and butter cooked in a roll.

“They’re her thing,” Young said. “Lynne has very dietary habits. She uses it as a bribe for rides because she doesn’t have a car.”

But unity goes beyond cooking for one another and carpooling.

The players spend virtually all of their time outside practice together watching seasons of “One Tree Hill,” completing jigsaw puzzles, and going to see movies.

They spend so much time together that everybody on the team has an honorary twin, senior Kelcie Klockenga said.

Knowing she has close friends as teammates has helped her succeed during her time at Iowa, she said.

“I think that knowing each other so well, you know what to say to [teammates] to calm them down and pump them up,” she said. “It makes it a lot easier to cheer for your team. It doesn’t matter who’s playing next to you.”

Assistant coach Mira Radu said the team togetherness is a big part of the winning season.

“It impressed me when I came here that the team members were as close as they are … It’s unusual,” she said. “It’s hard to get eight to 10 college-age women together on the same page. They usually compete among each other and have separate cliques. It’s obvious that this team gets along really well.”

The strong camaraderie may have helped the team make the transition after the introduction of first-year head coach Katie Dougherty.

Radu said practices became more intense under the new coach, but the players worked together and collaborated to help each other improve their skills on a weekly basis.

Young said the team’s 14-4 overall record and 4-3 mark in Big Ten play is largely due to the Hawkeyes’ ability to rely on one another both on the court and in their personal lives.

“We all want to stay on board and continue to work hard. The success brings us closer together,” Young said. “It makes the season more exciting, and we want to keep working hard in practice.”

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