COLCHESTER, Vt. – It’s a season of change for the St. Michael’s College
women’s tennis team and Longmeadow native Kayla Dowd
is excited to be a part of it.
This year, the tennis season will take place in the fall after years of being played in the spring, a move that has been well received by Dowd and her teammates.
“We’ve never done it this way before and we’re all very excited. We only had one outdoor home match last year because of the weather and how unpredictable it can be up here,” Dowd said after her first preseason practice of the year. “Playing indoors is a totally different game with rubber floors that cause the ball to travel and bounce differently. With the switch, we’ll be able to practice and have our matches outside all the time.”
Head coach Kevin Lizzo
agreed with Dowd’s assessment, adding it would help put his team on even footing with others within the Northeast-10 Conference (NE-10
“It will be good to have that consistency,” he said. “Lots of times we would still have snow on our courts when other teams didn’t, so playing in the fall will definitely even the playing field for us. We have indoor rubber courts, so during the spring, we would play on a fast court and then we would go on the road and have to play on slower courts in cold weather, so there were big adjustments.
Consistency is something Dowd is looking forward to appreciating this season.
Last season, the senior business administration major and studio art minor found success without it, earning Northeast-10 Conference All-Conference
honors as a doubles specialist, going 10-7 overall and 7-3 in the NE-10 in spite of a number of hurdles. The Purple Knights earned a regional ranking, going 11-8 overall and 9-3 in the league, and received the fourth seed
in the Northeast-10 Conference Championship.
Right off the bat, Dowd’s preparation for the spring faced a detour. To start the 2013-2014 school year, Dowd travelled abroad
in London, England, an experience she said she felt very fortunate to have, but one that also limited the amount of time she could devote to her craft on the court.
“Going abroad definitely made it tougher because it meant I spent four months only playing a little before the winter when you can’t play outside at all,” she said.
She added that having this year’s tennis season begin in the fall eliminates some of that challenge by allowing her to get right to work after the summer.
“This year I spent all summer playing tennis, working with a pro, which has helped me a lot and now I’m going directly into the season, something I didn’t have the opportunity to do before,” she said. “Now we’re able to go right into a two-week preseason before school even starts, so it’s just tennis and we can focus solely on that.”
Dowd also faced adversity in never having a consistent partner at her third doubles position, playing with five different teammates throughout the season.
“I really want to have a steady partner this year. That’s one of my major goals,” she said. “That way we are able to get used to each other’s games, get comfortable playing together and hopefully that will mean more success for us as a team.”
Lizzo, entering his second year as head coach, acknowledged that the constant shifting of partners can present obstacles, but Dowd handled them well.
“There’s definitely something to be said for consistency in terms of how doubles chemistry goes, but that’s part of team tennis – learning to play with a different partner and be willing to switch when the time comes,” he said. “You have to be willing to adapt your game a little bit and she did really well there.”
As one of four seniors on a team that returns every player from last season, Dowd thinks that in a leadership role she can help the team build upon the prior season’s success. While on the court tennis can be an individual game, being able to pick each other up in down times is essential, she said.
"In my first two years when I wasn’t playing a lot, I learned a lot about how to be a good teammate, supporting the other girls and staying upbeat to keep the team going” she said. “Tennis can be an individual game and sometimes if you lose, it can be tough because you might feel like you’re the one who let the team down. That’s when it’s up to the rest of us. You never want any one of your teammates thinking like that because we’re all in it together.”
Lizzo said there was one other area where Dowd could excel as a leader.
“It’s in bringing energy to the practice court and pushing her teammates on in practice so we can build upon our skills. You really need that energy on the practice court as well as on the match court,” he said. “Now that Kayla has seen some serious match play, she knows what we need to work on and hopefully we can improve upon what we did last year where we left off.”
With goals of another ranking and more success in the conference tournament, Dowd said she’s excited to get started.
“It’s crazy that the season is here already, but now I’m looking forward to going out there and giving it my all,” she said. “This is my last year, so I really want to put it all out there.”