When students start at Duke, they often enter with great expectations. Expectations of immediate academic validation that they deserve to be here. Expectations that they will continue to stand out among their peers. Expectations that their past successes will correspond directly to future endeavors.
Then, students tend to realize that it is not quite that easy. They have to start fresh and earn new respect.
Similarly, Duke has entered its season with great expectations, expectations of building on a trip to the Final Four in May and living up to preseason rankings. At the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-American Championships this past week in Cary, N.C., early exits by all of the Blue Devils' players proved that high expectations do not correlate with immediate success.
The four Blue Devil singles players who advanced to the main draw of the tournament lost Thursday. Eighth-ranked graduate student Georgia Drummy fell to 27th-ranked Rebeka Mertena from Tennessee (5-7, 5-7) and fifth-ranked senior Chloe Beck lost to 28th-ranked Carson Tanguilig from North Carolina (6-3, 1-6, 0-6) in the main draw. Sophomore Emma Jackson, ranked No. 100, dropped straight sets to 125th-ranked Julia Fliegner of Michigan (5-7, 2-6) and sixth-ranked graduate transfer Cameron Morra lost a three-set battle to 34th-ranked Solymar Colling of San Diego (3-6, 6-4, 4-6) in the main consolation draw. In main draw doubles play, the pair of Beck and Morra lost to Nikita Vishwase and Anastasiya Komar of LSU (5-7, 6-7).
“You can go both ways with [a poor performance],” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “You can use it as a learning experience, saying ‘This is where we are at the moment and this is what we need to do,’ or you can wallow in it. We had a team meeting and a good practice this morning, and we’re eager to move on and use it as a learning experience. We talked about how on paper we’re a very talented team, but this team hasn’t earned any of that. There are other people’s thoughts about us, but they have to earn that. At this point we haven’t earned that.”
Duke has six players ranked in the ITA preseason top 100 in singles and three doubles pairs in the top 50. Therefore, dropping from the tournament Thursday was an underperformance that gave the Blue Devils a reality check early in the season. The team has plenty of time to tune up during the rest of the fall season, beginning with ITA Fall Regionals, which begins Thursday in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“We [need to] play with passion and we play with pride. If we do that, the results take care of themselves,” Ashworth said. “We can’t read into other people’s expectations of ourselves. People were definitely disappointed with our results this weekend, but I think we’ll grow from it. We have another event next weekend with our regional qualifying for fall nationals, and I expect us to be better next week than we were this week.”
Among the Blue Devils looking to improve next week is the doubles pair of Beck and Morra. Morra transferred to Duke this year from North Carolina, and the two have gone from playing against each other to playing alongside one another.
Before their loss Thursday, Beck and Morra had early success, winning their first six matches together. The pair has seven combined years of collegiate experience, including immense NCAA tournament experience.
“It’s an interesting scenario having [Morra] here, and she’s a tremendous asset to our program. I’m excited to have her here,” Ashworth said. “We want to use the fall to find good doubles teams for when we have matches in the spring. There’s going to be some ups and downs with doubles. They won the first six matches they played together, and they had a little bump yesterday, but I think that their game styles really complement each other well. That’s what we’re looking for as coaches.”
Expectations will remain high for the Blue Devils, and they will have to lean on their experience as the season continues. They look to improve next week and beyond, understanding that their success last year does not mean they have earned anything this year.
“[Experience] is huge. They know nobody is going to go undefeated,” Ashworth said. “How you react to losses and how you prepare for the next event is a maturing process. I think we have a mature group, and no one came out to practice and felt sorry for themselves. They’re eager to get better and to improve their play.”
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.