It may still be winter, but spring sports are about to get off and running. For The Chronicle's first spring sport preview of 2021, we've got Duke women's tennis, which is poised for another successful season after an NCAA quarterfinal run last year.
With great success comes great expectations. Following last year’s run to the NCAA quarterfinals, the Blue Devils charge into the spring season with a talented, experienced and confident roster hungry to compete for a national championship.
Although the team lost one of their key contributors and team leaders in Meible Chi, Duke will retain the majority of its starters from last year’s team. In addition to the returning core of the roster, head coach Jamie Ashworth added two highly-rated freshmen recruits, Ellie Coleman and Emma Jackson. Ashworth, along with all those familiar with the Duke program, is confident in the depth and tenacity of his team.
“I expect that we're going to be a team that's going to be tough to play,” Ashworth said. “I expect that we're gonna be able to fluctuate our lineup day in and day out. And I expect that we're gonna have a team that's gonna compete their butts off.
The Blue Devils have a surplus of incredible tennis players, with a number of players who can compete with the top of any lineup in the country. What remains to be seen, however, is whether the team can develop as a cohesive unit.
The early portion of the season offers Duke and Ashworth the valuable time needed to find the right singles contributors and doubles partnerships that work. Once the dust settles and a lineup is formed, one thing seems certain: Duke will be a formidable power in collegiate tennis. -Matthew Hawkins
New player to watch: Ellie Coleman
Freshman Ellie Coleman is coming to Duke from Michigan, and in her young career, she’s appeared in all four grand slam junior events and made it to the second round in Wimbledon most recently in 2021. She reached the semifinals of the Australian Open with doubles partner Savannah Brodus in 2020. She had a recruiting rank of No. 4 by Tennis Recruiting Network for the majority of her high school career.
Coleman started her college career strong, reaching a singles ranking of No. 48 at the end of the fall season, and reached No. 60 when playing doubles with Chloe Beck. While doubles pairings for the regular season have not yet been set, Coleman is certain to make a difference no matter who she plays with.
“We're such a small group with just eight or nine players that one or two new kids can make a difference. And I really think that our two freshmen, Ellie Coleman and Emma Jackson, are going to play huge roles for us,” said Ashworth. -Campbell Lawson
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Returning player to watch: Chloe Beck
Junior Chloe Beck finished the fall season ranked 15th nationally in singles play, and was the only Blue Devil with two doubles partnerships ranked. Beck and senior Margaryta Bilokin finished at No. 20 and Beck and Coleman came in at No. 60.
Beck had a great sophomore season last year with 20 singles wins and just 5 losses. Additionally, she stood out as a leader, despite her youth. Now as a junior, she should be able to capitalize on that strength and help lead the team to victory.
“We tried 12 or 13 different doubles combinations in the fall. And I’ve told [the team] at practice that we really have to be flexible enough, with COVID and health problems, to play with different partners every day,” said Ashworth.
Beck, having had all three of her seasons at Duke affected somehow by the pandemic, is certainly an expert in flexibility. She should be able to take advantage of that experience to stand out on the team as a player and a leader. –Lawson
Most anticipated match: North Carolina, April 18
Not surprisingly, facing the rivals down the road will be Duke’s most anticipated match this season. Current No. 3 North Carolina is returning a strong roster and adding, just like Duke, two very strong freshmen. While Ashworth emphasizes the importance of each and every match, finishing up the season against the Tar Heels will be a thrilling match for Duke and Carolina fans alike.
The entirety of the ACC is super strong for the second year in a row. Every conference match will be exciting to watch, there really is no lull in the season for the Duke Blue Devils.
“Our conference is incredibly loaded again,” said Ashworth. “I think we have six or seven teams in the top twenty right now. Every time we step onto the court we have to be there 100% mentally, physically and emotionally, especially in this conference.” -Lawson
As one of the top teams in the country, the Blue Devils have their sights set on a national championship, and it’s a real possibility. Duke returns most of their top players in Chen, Beck and Drummy, who all played important roles in the team’s quarterfinals run last year. Combining that experienced talent with a strong freshman class, the Blue Devils have all of the pieces to make another run deep in the NCAA tournament. -Hawkins
Given the events of the last two years, it has become quite easy to think of potentially chaotic situations, and the Duke women’s tennis team is no exception. Underperformance and injuries are always a threat to team success, no matter the talent level of the roster. If such misfortune strikes the Blue Devils, they could certainly fall in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament. -Hawkins
Lawson: 16-3, 11-2 in the ACC, loss in NCAA semifinals
Hawkins: 15-4, 10-3 in the ACC, loss in NCAA quarterfinals