You can say many things about the just bumped up to #44 University of Denver women’s tennis team. The team and coaches are very friendly and appreciative of fan support, they work hard and take winter break off to sharpen their game, and they never knock each other down.
But this week another characteristic emerged: edge.
“I think everyone’s really pumped to play Kansas tomorrow,” senior co-captain Bianca Mok said. “I think we’re all ready to get revenge on them for last year.”
The edge really hit a crescendo Monday when the draw was announced for the NCAA tournament. While DU (17-5, 5-0) is relishing the chance to get some payback against the team that knocked them out last year – they also want to know: “where’s the respect?”
DU is the lowly #4 seed in the Lawrence, KS region (the top 16 teams in the national rankings are first and second round hosts). DU, that beat Power Five schools Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (and took down the dangerous Georgia State in Orlando in humid conditions that much more favored GSU).
To put it in perspective, Alabama State, LIU Brooklyn and North Florida are other #4 seeds in the 64-team tournament. Winthrop is seeded higher than DU and they have zilch in the way of Power Five wins but plenty of crushing defeats against the likes of Longwood and South Carolina-Upstate.
Women hope to equal men’s team’s 2013 historic achievement
No regional #4 seed has ever knocked off a #1 in the women’s NCAA tournament.
And until 2013 no men’s team had either, until Florida was shocked in front of their home fans in Gainesville. The team that upset them: DU.
Alex Clinkenbeard clinched the match to give the Pios the 4-3 victory. “Playing loose, playing hard and ultimately playing for each other was key to winning,” he recalls.
Clinkenbeard, who this month will graduate from medical school at CU, sees a lot of what made his team special in this year’s women’s team: “The women certainly have the firepower to compete and win at this level as they’ve shown in the regular season.” He added: “I’m sure that if they leave it all out there, deeply believe they can win, and play for their teammates then they will make the Pioneer community proud.”
Mok: doubles point is crucial
Mok won’t be playing her last tennis match as a Pio Saturday if DU loses, as she’s already been selected for the singles tournament later this month in Florida. But it would be her last time playing with her close friend and co-captain Arisha Ladhani and other teammates she’s mentored and inspired.
“We need to go out firing and our focus needs to be sharp,” she says when asked what will be most important for the team when they step onto the courts at Rock Chalk Park. She adds winning that first doubles point is crucial to knocking the Jayhawks off their game.
From the fall season to the NCAA tournament courts in Lawrence, Mok says her team is ready to fight: “I think we’re all at our peak.”