first_img Comments Published on February 6, 2012 at 12:00 pm Packed into a musty van in Tampa, Fla., a demoralized Syracuse team sought answers after a blowout loss to South Florida.It was not the opening Alessondra Parra and her veteran teammates envisioned for this season.‘We had a serious talk afterward about everyone taking responsibility for their own match,’ Parra said. ‘We felt like we should have hit the ground running, and we really took those two losses to heart.’With the addition of five freshmen to the SU roster and a tougher schedule, the defeat served as a reality check for the more experienced players like Parra and senior Emily Harman. The Orange (3-3, 2-1 Big East) quickly learned it had plenty to work on, especially the freshman class. And the veterans had to lead by example to help the freshmen gain confidence.SU head coach Luke Jensen said the freshmen will need to adjust and overcome the learning curve to form a competitive team with the already set pieces of Parra, Harman, and sophomores Maddie Kobelt and Aleah Marrow. The young Orange players will need to soak in the knowledge and experience of Jensen and the upperclassmen.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSyracuse carried a boatload of confidence into that season opener against the Bulls, but was knocked back by a deeper USF squad. The following weekend, Syracuse struggled against another nationally ranked opponent in Texas Christian. The Horned Frogs dominated nearly every game, and the Orange came out empty-handed with the exception of a lone Harman singles victory.However, Jensen, now in his sixth season at Syracuse, used both of those early losses as constructive criticism for his players. He challenged his team with those two matches, trying to see just how well they could hold up against two competitive opponents before the brunt of Big East play kicked in.And although SU’s vulnerable core of freshmen was battered in the loss, Jensen knew that those bitter feelings of dissatisfaction would be a great learning experience for future development.‘Every time we lose I feel like it’s much easier to coach these girls, especially the younger ones because they feel the sting and setback of defeat,’ Jensen said. ‘When we’re winning, they’re not pushing themselves as hard. And when we lose, it doesn’t leave a good taste in their mouth.’The Orange’s youth who were exposed after only two matches now hope for a strong start to the season quickly turned into sour disappointment.But Harman, who has been at the forefront of this tennis team since her rise as a freshman, followed Jensen’s lead and reminded her youthful teammates that they just needed to work a little harder.Whether it meant practicing with higher intensity or hitting the ball for an extra hour after practice, the senior captain was optimistic that the Orange could learn from its sluggish start.Harman said it was extremely important for the young players to get comfortable with the system under a high level of competition to create a strong dynamic and encourage development.‘As a freshman, I remember playing against Florida International, who was ranked No. 52 at the time,’ Harman said. ‘We didn’t win a single game in that match, but I gained so much because I was playing my heart out against someone who was better than me.’For the first time in their SU careers, five freshmen competed at a level of intensity beyond anything they had experienced in high school. And with the rigors of a tough schedule stacked against them, they were going to have to learn on the fly.The younger players look to Harman as a source of motivation.After opening her freshman season with a loss in the doubles and singles competition against TCU, Komal Safdar’s game was missing a spark. The former Greater Cincinnati Player of the Year wanted to step up and contribute. After being beat handily in her first match, Safdar used her loss as a reminder of what she has yet to accomplish.‘Playing against better competition gives us exposure and much more experience to work with,’ Safdar said. ‘We are still struggling, but that’s part of being young. As the season progresses, playing those quality opponents will give us a really good shot at winning.’Safdar and fellow freshman Amanda Rodgers built upon their mediocre performances by watching team leaders Parra and Harman during practice. The veteran duo hustled around the court to pick up tennis balls in between serves.Those brief moments of observation made the type of intensity and work ethic Jensen expects clear to the freshmen.With Jensen at the helm, the Orange has always been focused on maintaining an up-tempo and aggressive style during each match, something that Jensen said the younger players must do by constantly learning from one another.‘These guys have never been coached in this environment before, where they don’t have their private coach,’ Jensen said. ‘We don’t look too much into individual success. I mean, we each have individual matches, but we all play at the same time whether you’re on the sidelines or playing singles and doubles.‘It’s about everyone learning together and getting better as one unit.’Syracuse has rebounded from its early-season losses with wins in three of its last four matches. And both Rodgers and Safdar emerged in singles and doubles play to help the Orange get back on track.The turnaround all started by playing with a higher intensity level after the constructive talk in the crowded van down in Florida.And if the Orange freshmen want to turn small steps into large strides as the season progresses, they must soak in the competitive spirit of Parra and Harman and treat this year as a golden opportunity to learn and develop as players.‘Both Parra and Harman always come together at the end of practice and tell us how satisfying our accomplishments will feel if we keep playing up to our potential,’ Safdar said. ‘We can’t expect improvement to happen overnight, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t try to make it happen overnight.’[email protected] center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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