Lynchburg, Va. -- Chris Johnson sees many qualities in the University of Lynchburg women's tennis players he coaches, but none is as important, the second-year director said, as their toughness.
And of the qualities for a good tennis player to have, Johnson said, grit is way up the list.
"There's no time clock," he explained, "so you can't get ahead with 5 minutes to go and run the time out. In tennis, you have to close the match. And that takes someone who is really tough."
The 2019 Hornet women's tennis team has shown its toughness on many occasions this season. In fact, they've shown it more than any other team in Lynchburg women's tennis history.
The women enter this week's Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament with a program-record 16 wins already to their name and the No. 2 seed in the upcoming championship bracket. The milestones come a year after the team tied the program record for wins with a 13-7 record in Johnson's first year.
"It was just a matter of trying to advance farther than we did last year," senior Reagan Coon explained of the team's new heights in 2019.
Coon has played a big part in the record-setting season, boasting a 14-0 singles record this spring.
She is one of four Lynchburg players who have leapt into the program's top seven in career singles victories.
Junior Christina Harris became the team's all-time wins leader in the fall and enters postseason play at 62 career wins. Seniors Lilli Altenburg, Coon, and Sarah Wyly sit third, sixth and seventh on the all-time wins list as well.
"We failed before in the past and just built on that," Coon said, remembering an 8-11 team record her sophomore season. "I think our experience has taught us how to have success on the court."
The younger contingent of the team has held its own despite the hard lessons of leaner years. Sophomores Ellen Druebbisch and Emily Hoang and freshman Alissa Anderson are a combined 35-5 in singles play this season, and sophomore Caroline Guill has teamed up with Harris for an 11-3 mark at the No. 1 doubles flight.
Johnson called back to the team's unwillingness to quit.
"I hope to coach teams in the future that are this tough mentally," the coach said, "but this is one of the toughest teams I've coached in 13 years."
For Harris, a big fall season set the tone for success in the spring. She earned a national ranking from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (No. 32 in Division III), reaching the quarterfinal round of the ITA regional tournament, and broke the program's wins record.
The loud fall wound up "just carrying that good energy into the season," Harris said.
This spring, she's been driven by the prospect of besting that fall success along with the momentum from the 2018 spring season.
Lynchburg reached the ODAC tournament semifinals for the first time last year as the third seed, but the Hornets suffered an upset loss to No. 7-seeded Virginia Wesleyan that denied them a trip to the finals.
The loss fueled this season's success, Harris said.
"That would just be all the hard work paying off," she said. "We've been working so hard in the gym, on the court, and I feel like we've been rewarded every match that we've played this year. Hopefully we will continue to be rewarded."
As for Coon, whose collegiate tennis career will end this week unless Lynchburg manages to upset a nationally ranked Washington and Lee team in the conference final, determination shines through.
"We're not entitled to anything," Coon said. "We're just playing with the mindset that you have to earn everything you do."
But certainly the goal is to reach that ODAC final for the first time in program history. The Hornets coach thinks that goal is well within reach.
"We came in with some big goals this year, and we've achieved them so far," Johnson said.
"There are no disguises. We know what we're after this year."
Lynchburg's road to the ODAC championship match begins Wednesday, May 1 at home against No. 7-seeded Bridgewater College at 2:30 p.m. As with every home match this season, Lynchburg athletics will provide live stats for the match.
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