During a heated volley drill sophomore Camille Verden-Anderson slams the ball home with an intense fury.
But then she has to walk away and looks to be in pain. Is she injured?
“I got hair in my eye,” she calls out in her thick English accent.
“You should get hair in your eye more often,” associate head coach David Loewenthal responds with a chuckle.
Coming into their last regular season match the #47 Pioneers (14-5, 5-0) are definitely turning it up a notch, realizing this is not the time to get complacent. As head coach Christian Bass constantly reminds them, the key is to stay aggressive and not take anything for granted.
They’ll wrap up against South Dakota Friday at 1p MT at Denver Tennis Park, where they have yet to lose. A ceremony will be held after the match honoring seniors Bianca Mok (co-captain), Arisha Ladhani (co-captain), and Hannah Templeton.
The showdown (originally slated for slated for March 16th but was postponed in the wake of the first bomb cyclone) is a rematch of last year’s Summit League championship, which the Crimson and Gold won 4-0 to take their fifth-straight conference title.
Loewenthal knows the Coyotes are another rival looking to hand them their first conference defeat in years: “They’re well coached, [head coach] Brett [Barnett] does a nice job with the South Dakota team and they’ll be hungry to beat us, as all Summit League teams are”
Coach Loewenthal isn’t wrong that South Dakota are gunning for the Pioneers.
“This match starts with the team believing that they can go to Denver and pull this off,” Barnett says. “If we can play smart and take advantage of the chances we create we’ll find ourselves in some close sets and then it’s just a matter of executing in those moments.”
Meanwhile, here’s a closer look at the three departing Pios and their achievements.
Co-captain Mok had the unenviable task of having to come out of the shadows of All-Americans Julia O’Loughlin and Maureen Slattery, among others from that generation of players.
“They had massive shoes to fill,” Loewenthal says.
After a 2017-2018 season where she went a blistering 18-2 in singles, the Boise, ID native began this season right where she left off, taking down #26 Lauren Winthrop of Winthrop last fall.
Playing from the #1 spot all season, she’s 14-2 in singles heading into the USD match and hasn’t been beaten since March 1st. She’s also been named Summit League women’s tennis player of the week three times this season.
Mok is also known for playing with a racquet manufactured in the early 1990s (so basically older than her). The coaching staff once ended up having to buy from an obscure vendor in Southeast Asia to get her one.
Mok has been ranked as high as #82 in singles this season. She’s fallen to #109 but can still make the NCAA singles tournament in Orlando in a few weeks as long as she remains in the top 125 (the Summit has an AQ’ing bid but the top player has to at least be ranked).
Mok’s roommate and fellow co-captain Ladhani, a redshirt senior from British Columbia, transferred to DU after playing the 2014-2015 season at the University of California at Irvine.
“Rish” as she’s affectionately called by her teammates and coaches, came into the season ranked #85. She struggled a bit, especially midway through the season, but has still put together a very strong 10-5 record in singles. She’s also been named Summit League women’s tennis player of the week twice this season.
Finally, like all her teammates, she’s a hard worker in the classroom as well as on the court. She has made the Dean’s List at DU and was named an ITA Scholar-Athlete.
Loewenthal doesn’t mince words when talking about his co-captains, especially as they are the final two student-athletes on the roster who were part of that remarkable Pio squad that took down the Southern Cal Trojans in the first round of the 2017 NCAA tournament.
“Those two have to be the most successful players in Denver tennis history, she says. “A little piece of the legacy from that team is obviously leaving with Bianca and Arisha”
#25 USC was up 2-0 on the Crimson and Gold before Ladhani won to get DU on the board, and ultimately turn the tide of the match in the Pioneers’ favor.
Templeton transferred in this season as a junior from SEC powerhouse South Carolina.
Ultimately with an already stocked DU roster, she was used sparingly, but Loewenthal said her off the court contributions as a role model were immense.
“She’s got incredible work ethic, dedication, she can multitask fifty different things and be successful at all of them,” he said.
Templeton was recognized by both the SEC and ITA for her academic achievements. She has now finished her degree (in only three years) and is taking grad courses. And the Pio with the big smile from North Carolina has even landed what she calls her “dream job,” a consultant position at accounting giant Deloitte.
As Loewenthal puts it: “Hannah is going to be someone to look out for out there in the real world.”
After South Dakota it will be off to Tulsa for the Summit tournament where Bass’s Pioneers will be the favorite to win their sixth-straight title. And then hopefully after that the ladies will travel to one of 16 TBD host sites for the NCAA team tournament.
The players cannot be faulted for a lack of ambition, their coaches say these young Pios have set a goal of making it “to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.”
*Note: an earlier version of this report said that Bianca Mok was likely not going to qualify for NCAA singles postseason play. That was inaccurate, we regret the error.