Last Sunday, Drake junior Jessica Aguilera defeated Northern Iowa’s Krissy Lankelma in straight sets to take the State Farm Missouri Valley Individuals title at the No. 4 position.
On a day where the on-court temperatures reached the upper 90s, Aguilera’s match was just as much about fitness as it was about tennis. Luckily for Aguilera and the Bulldogs, Head Coach Paul Thomson has been working with his young squad on enhancing its fitness, which Aguilera believes helped her to her first MVC Individuals title with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Lankelma.
“I felt in way better condition than the first couple of tournaments,” she said.
This was the first time Aguilera and Lankelma had played each other, leaving both players without a definite strategy before the match began. With the heat as a contributing factor, Aguilera benefited from wearing her opponent out and taking control of the points early and often.
“It was my first time playing against her,” Aguilera said. “So I had to just fight and do my best.”
Aguilera set the tone early, taking charge of the games, which the Bulldog said were a lot closer than the scoreline suggests. In a match that was decided on vital points, the Drake junior found the weakness of her UNI opponent and exploited it throughout the match. With Lankelma clearly being strongest on her forehand side, Aguilera focused on disrupting her backhand and upsetting her confidence.
“Coach told me to keep moving her and to attack the backhand,” Aguilera said. “He said to play to win and not play to not lose.”
Aguilera believes that she has improved mentally since last year and is more confident in her game. It showed as the match entered the second set. Every point by Drake’s No. 4 singles player was deliberate and smart, helping her win the biggest points of the match.
“The games were always close, but I won the important points which broke her down,” she said.
Aguilera is looking forward to bringing the momentum and confidence gained from her first MVC title into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Regional in Fayetteville, Ark., starting on Oct. 21. Thomson believes that every one of the players on his squad has improved in some area, and believes that will help them in the tournament.
“I told the entire team that they have all improved since the fall began,” he said. “Some more than others, and in different ways, but everyone has improved.”
Thomson believes the ITA Central Regional is just another step in the long run of the season. Ideally, the team will be reaching its full potential months from now during the conference tournament of the spring season.
“But truly, it is all about what their perception is of what they [the players] think they can accomplish,” Thomson said. “It doesn’t really matter what I think they can do, only what they believe they can do.”
Photo: File Photo