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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

2023-24 Season Preview: Vanderbilt Women’s Tennis

Vanderbilt Women’s Tennis starts a new chapter in its 2023-24 campaign with National Championship aspirations.
Narenkumar Thirmiya
Vanderbilt and UCF shake hands at the end of the match, as photographed on Feb. 17, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Narenkumar Thirmiya)

The Vanderbilt Women’s Tennis team looks to expand upon its progress from last year after a successful season across fall, indoor and outdoor play. Some of the most notable highlights for the team were selection to the NCAA tournament for the 28th consecutive year, a trip to the ITA indoor finals, numerous national rankings of which was as high as No. 9 and an appearance at the NCAA singles championships by then-redshirt freshman Célia Belle Mohr. However, the Commodores struggled to perform at both the ITA and NCAA championship. At the indoor ITA championships, the team went winless, and, in the NCAA tournament, they were eliminated in the regional round of 32. 

The struggle to perform in championships was reflective of Vanderbilt’s up and down season composed of streaks of wins and losses. The Commodores obtained an overall record of 17-13 while falling just short of .500 in conference play with a record of 7-8. Yet, the young team still put together impressive performances, proving it has the potential and necessary skills to compete both in the SEC and NCAA. After a strong start in the fall, the team saw its biggest win of the year when it downed No. 3 NC State, improving to an impressive 4-0 record to start the spring season. 

“Last season, we were really close against very good teams,” head coach Aleke Tsoubanos said. “I think we were capable of being a top 10 team last year, and I certainly think we’re capable of that this year. We narrowly lost to Ohio State last year in the round of 32 in Columbus and certainly had opportunities there… I think we learned from that experience and can take that into this season.”

Belle Mohr is the highlight of the team’s returning players and will look to replicate her standout season from last year. In the 2022-23 season, She held the No.1 singles position for the Black and Gold, was the only Vanderbilt women’s player invited to the NCAA singles championship, collected First Team All-SEC and earned a season-high ITA ranking of No. 19. Belle Mohr will also have company in fellow sophomore Bridget Stammel who also had an impressive freshman season, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors and All-Freshman SEC honors. She also recorded five wins over nationally ranked opponents, in addition to a No. 59 singles ranking. 

Returning seniors Anessa Lee and Holly Staff bring with them three years of experience both on the singles and doubles sides of play, with highest career single rankings of No. 69 and No. 86, respectively. Sophomore Sonya Macavei will also be returning to play after suffering an ACL tear that cut her convincing freshman campaign short in January 2023. 

Although Vanderbilt lost seasoned players Marcella Cruz and Anna Ross, Tsoubanos is still very optimistic with the team’s ability to be competitive and the depth of the roster.

“They’re [Vanderbilt Women’s Tennis players] working really hard. They’ve been doing a lot of one-on-one individual work, and the feel of the group is really nice,” Tsoubanos said. “[Célia Belle Mohr] was constantly getting better the more she played.”

Beyond the returners, the recruiting class of 2023 for the women’s tennis team earned a No. 3 national ranking by the Tennis Recruiting Network, with the addition of Miami native Valeria Ray this fall. Canada native Kayla Cross will also be joining the team this spring. In June 2023, Ray achieved an all time high junior singles ranking of No. 41, while Cross achieved a personal best ITA junior ranking of No. 15 in March 2022. 

“We have a really wonderful incoming class with Valeria and in January with Kayla,” Tsouabanos said. “They both played junior grand slams, they’ve played a lot of competition and they have a lot of experience… I think they’re both going to be forces on the team, and I’m excited to see how they do.”

Two new staff members were also added to the team with the hires Kelly Chen and Jack Findel-Hawkins as assistant coaches this past summer. Both Chan and Findel-Hawkins collected numerous accolades for their alma maters of Duke and North Florida, respectively, and Findel-Hawkins served as the assistant coach for the Memphis men’s tennis team.

“Having a third coach — in terms of getting to work with the team more one on one — I think [it] is going to be a [positive] change,” Tsoubanos said.

The tennis season is long and grueling but will afford players many opportunities to refine their skills headed into the championship season of April and May 2024. Tsoubanos emphasized the importance of having realistic expectations starting fall play and fueling the competitive fire as the season carries on.

“Something we talk about every year and we did this year when we met was to start to really write your own chapter and the kind of book that is the history of Vanderbilt Tennis,” Tsoubanos said. “Coming off these first couple tournaments, we can see what we need to focus on now and get better at.”

The Commodores will start their 2023-24 season campaign on Sept.15-17 at the Kitty Harrison Invitational in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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About the Contributors
Grace Hall
Grace Hall, Deputy Sports Editor
Grace Hall (‘26) is from Belfast, Maine, and is majoring in public policy studies in the College of Arts and Science. Grace is also the vice-president of the Vanderbilt Club Field Hockey Team. When not writing for The Hustler you can find her watching the Boston Red Sox or Celtics, reading or at a concert. You can reach her at [email protected].
Narenkumar Thirmiya
Narenkumar Thirmiya, Staff Photographer
Narenkumar Thirmiya ('24) is from Orlando, Fla., and is majoring in neuroscience and medicine, health, and society in the College of Arts and Science. When not shooting for The Hustler, he is streaming TV, playing the piano or guitar or exploring nature photography. You can reach him at [email protected].
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