Hard Work and Dedication Pay Off for Kansas Tennis Seniors
From reaching a program-high ITA ranking to tying the 1978 season for the second-longest opening-season winning streak with eight wins, the 2013-14 Kansas women’s tennis season represents numerous achievements for the program.
While the Jayhawks may be proud, three stand prouder than the rest. Seniors Claire Dreyer, Paulina Los and Dylan Windom endured trials and tribulations during their years as members of the Kansas tennis team, watching a program they love grow from an unranked squad into a true Cinderella story. Kansas tennis was a team that opponents never saw coming this year and the seniors were more than happy to find that the glass slipper fit.
“I think finally I feel great to be a part of KU tennis,” said Los. “With the fact that we weren’t that successful, for say, three years, right now I just feel proud. I was always proud of being on the KU tennis team, but now we really proved that we are a really great team, and the hard work paid off.”
Los traveled almost 5,000 miles from her hometown of Gdansk, Poland to Lawrence, Kan., knowing very little about Mt. Oread and the Jayhawk traditions. It took her a year to prepare to come to the United States and get cleared by the NCAA. As she neared the end of her preparations, a transcript was lost. Kansas was the only school that was prepared to wait for her to resend her transcript.
“I didn’t know anything about how it worked here,” said Los. “I would just hear a little bit from friends that came here, but I was really impressed at how they take care of us and how strict they are about the sports and college.”
For Windom, a Tifton, Ga., native, Kansas was the only school that she even considered after recognizing that a past contact, former assistant coach German Delmagro, was on the Kansas coaching staff.
“KU was literally one of the only schools I looked at,” said Windom. “I had lost contact with German for like 12 years and then I saw that he coached here and contacted them.”
A year after her fellow seniors arrived in Lawrence, Dreyer transferred from Dayton University in Dayton, Ohio. A product of St. Louis, Mo., Dreyer was searching for a program that would help elevate her tennis skills.
“When I was looking to transfer, I wanted a more serious tennis program,” said Dreyer. “All the tradition here at KU and on my visit, just seeing how well they take care of us, that was really one of my motivating factors.”
During her first year as a Jayhawk, Windom excelled on the court. The freshman went 19-4 on the season including an 8-3 record in Big 12 play. Her eight conference wins placed Windom among the program’s best, tying her with Yuliana Svistun for seventh place for most Big 12 wins in a season.
Los also shined her freshman year after putting up a 15-18 overall record, including going 4-7 in Big 12 play.
The next year, Dreyer arrived and the seasons got tougher for Kansas. The Jayhawks tied for sixth place in the conference during Windom and Los’ first year under former head coach Amy Hall-Holt, but struggled in the Big 12 the following seasons. The Jayhawks finished in last place in the seniors’ sophomore campaigns, and eighth as juniors.
Dreyer, Los and Windom, entered their senior years following a disappointing 2012-13 season and welcomed a new coaching staff in head coach Todd Chapman and assistant coach Aaron Fuller.
While some seniors could see a new coaching staff as another bump in the road, the trio saw it as something else: the catalyst they and their team needed to finish their Jayhawk campaigns with a bang.
“When I came here my freshman year, I was really excited,” said Los. “I remember we had a really good year, record wise, but the team’s mentality was just like, ‘Okay, we’re almost last in the Big 12, let’s try not to be the last one.’ And with this coach (Chapman), it is just to be the best one.”
Immediately, Chapman entered the program with the goal of changing the team’s mindset and encourage a winning mentality.
“Coach coming in, instilled that in us,” said Dreyer. “He said we deserved to be ranked, and we are capable of beating really good teams. From the get go, he instilled that in us and we were able to believe in ourselves, like we haven’t before.”
At first, Chapman was unsure of how his seniors would take to his new style of coaching, but he found himself pleasantly surprised at how accepting the trio was.
“I think as a new coach, you come in not knowing what to expect,” said Chapman. “Especially with seniors, they’ve maybe played with another coach and they’re set in their own ways. I’ve been nothing but pleasantly surprised and excited about the roles that our seniors have taken. They didn’t have one foot out the door already.”
In fall 2013, the Jayhawks had to adjust to the new coaching style and mentality that Chapman and his staff brought to the team. The Jayhawks struggled against ranked foes at their invitationals and had a hard time finding the mental toughness to win.
But at the start of the spring, the Jayhawks came back from the winter recess a brand new team.
On Jan. 31, unranked Kansas headed out on the road to meet No. 36 Nebraska to open the Jayhawks’ dual match season. Kansas picked up the early advantage with a win in doubles and continued its momentum to singles, where the Jayhawks stunned the Huskers by winning three singles courts to give them the four wins necessary to clinch the match and give the Jayhawks their largest upset in 10 years. Kansas left Lincoln, Neb., with a win in its pocket and a bus full of excited and determined women.
“I just remember we were so happy on the bus,” said Los, laughing at the memory. “And then we actually got stuck in the middle of nowhere because it was snowing. The battery on the bus was getting really low and there was a snowstorm.”
Following the win in Nebraska, Kansas embarked on an eight-match winning streak that would tie for the second- longest season-opening win streak in program history.
While the Kansas team has faced its own highs and lows this season, the seniors are proud of where the team is going this year as their final match in the Jayhawk Tennis Center nears.
One thing that tied the trio together was not just the length of their friendship, but their fellow teammates who made them a family.
“What is great is we are a team, but we are also really good friends outside of tennis,” said Los. “At least for me, I don’t really have my family here, so that helped me to survive here.”
Kansas features 11 women from five different countries around the world, making the team a family away from home for most.
“I’m definitely going to miss Paulina,” said Dreyer. “I don’t know the next time I’m ever going to see her because she’s going to go overseas. Same with some of the other internationals. That’s going to be tough just saying goodbye to all these girls.”
Los agreed, “It really came to me yesterday. I started thinking about it and I realized next month, something that I’ve been doing for the last 17 years is going to end. It was probably the best thing that happened to me, because I have experienced so much and I don’t think I would have had this much experience if I stayed home. The fun, the adventures and so many friends from all around the world (are all memories that will last a lifetime). I just realized that 17 years is going to end completely. It’s just such a weird feeling.”
But Windom says the trio has already begun to plan a reunion with the rest of the team following their graduation.
“We always talked about having five-year reunions in different countries, or Las Vegas,” said Windom. “Honestly, I didn’t know anything about Kansas until I came here. I feel like it’s been good and I’ll miss KU in general.”
The Kansas seniors have been through almost everything together in their time donning the Crimson and Blue. On April 6, Dreyer, Los and Windom will bid farewell to the Jayhawk Tennis Center as they play with their final home court advantage against Texas.