With victory over Division I University of Northern Iowa, Madara secures first victory as head coach

| Associate Editor

The women’s tennis team’s win over the Division I University of Northern Iowa on Saturday did not come easily at first. The Bears fell behind 2-1 after doubles and senior captain Ally Persky dropped the first set of the top singles match, while the first sets of three other singles matches were closely contested.

But that did not stop the Bears. “Those players who were down and had some holes—there was just that fire in their eyes that they wanted to win for their team and they wanted to be a court that was going to help us be successful,” head coach Paige Madara said. 

Melanie Schaefer / WashU Athletics

Senior Laurel Wanger (left) and freshman Katherine Johnston (right) tap racquets during their doubles victory over the University of Northern Iowa Saturday.

Soon enough, that fire in the players’ eyes translated to wins as Wash. U. stormed back to win singles, 5-1, and the match overall, 6-3, securing Madara’s first win as the Bears’ head coach and bringing the team to 1-1 on the season.

“I thought we came out ready to compete,” Madara said. “We had some holes to dig out of during our doubles matches and we figured out a way to keep battling and get ourselves back in that match.”

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It was the second match in a row where the Bears found themselves down after doubles. In the season opener Feb. 21 against Maryville University, Wash. U. had also lost two of three to start. In that match, however, they were not able to rally back. They fell 4-3, though the mood afterward was still one of gratitude rather than loss.

“Even though we lost, we still had pretty good morale coming out of the match because after not competing for an entire year, it was really awesome just to see the way everyone was supporting each other and still fighting,” Persky said. 

Since they were not approved by the University’s Covid Monitoring Team until Feb. 18, the Bears found out that they would be able to compete against Maryville less than three days before the match. The uncertainty that accompanies a fluid schedule has made for some challenges, but players said they had been able to take the hurdles in stride.

“We’ve just been going along with the assumption that [matches are] going to happen so that we’re mentally prepared to compete,” senior captain Emma Sass said. Pandemic-era protocols range from masked play during indoor competitions to racquet taps that replace high fives.

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This weekend’s match against Northern Iowa was a sort of happy coincidence. The Panthers were already traveling to the region to face Saint Louis University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, so Wash. U. was able to fit themselves in on Northern Iowa’s off day. “We probably wore them out a little bit for their match on Sunday,” Madara said, laughing. 

In the midst of the Bears’ comeback, the energy was infectious. “I have not heard some of my teammates scream that loudly before, which was a lot of fun to hear,” Sass said. “We rocked that place on Saturday.” 

For Madara, the win brought back recollections from her own time as a Bear. “I have a lot of memories from playing and coaching at Tao and a lot of really positive memories from my experience, so it’s definitely special and cool for me to be able to have my first win at our own home courts,” she said. 

But she emphasized that the win was a testament to the team’s effort. “They put the work in and they really came out on fire and wanted that win,” she said.

While the Bears’ schedule is not set in stone given the constantly shifting pandemic conditions, Madara was optimistic about the team’s chances to get more matches in. The University Athletic Association championship has been canceled, but Madara said the team is still hoping to face conference opponents in addition to other teams from the region.

“We are still competing in the midst of a pandemic, but hopefully we can continue to be safe and take those precautions that we need for our season to continue and we can get as many matches in this spring and be ready for the postseason, whatever that looks like this year,” Madara said.

More sports features from the last few months:

Together, on and off the court: How WU’s married women’s basketball coaches make it work

‘I couldn’t be prouder as a coach’: How members of the track team helped each other overcome quarantine hurdles

Two years after shaking with nerves in his first appearance, Matt Lopes cannot wait to get back on the mound

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