Freshman athletes are usually associated with the bench.
They often wait their turn, patiently learning from the upperclassmen, coaches and trainers, in hopes of one day reaching the pinnacle of collegiate sports — being at the top of their game as seniors.
Just don’t tell that to the freshmen of the women’s tennis team. They have their own plans.
Mayci Jones, Savannah Ware and Toby Miclat are part of a freshman class that is killing it on the tennis court this season. From the start of the season through the March 22 match against No. 38 Saint Mary’s, the freshmen have combined to win 48 of the team’s 96 singles points, overcoming their inexperience at the collegiate level with hard work and unity.
“I think we’re all just so competitive, and we’ve all played with each other in juniors,” Miclat said. “We know that level of intensity, and we just apply that level of intensity here.”
That pressure — to win, inspire and lead — is felt no stronger than with Mayci Jones, who leads the team at the No. 1 singles spot, coached by her sister Lauren Jones-Spencer, who took over as head coach in 2010.
“I have a ton of pressure because my sister’s the coach, and if I’m not doing my job exactly right she’ll let me know about it,” Jones said. “I love leading the team because I’m playing number one and always making sure I bring energy so everyone else feels pumped up. Even if I’m not playing my best, I’m trying to make sure to have a ton of energy so everyone knows we’re all trying hard and fighting hard to win our matches.”
Though quiet compared to Miclat and Jones, Ware’s play on the court has been loud, on a four-match winning streak through March 22, clinching a 5-2 victory over No. 38 Saint Mary’s in a dominant performance at the No. 5 singles spot, the Cougars’ first win over a top 40 team since defeating No. 32 TCU in 2007.
“I just go out there and play my game and just compete and always try to find a way to win,” Ware said. “Even if I’m off, I’m finding a way … staying out there as long as possible for my teammates.”
Miclat and Jones call Ware the “Red Anchor” — her red hair stands out amidst a group of blondes and brunettes — with several matches having been decided by a Ware victory at the No. 5 and 6 singles spots. Ware provides stability and reliability in the late stages of matches for the Cougars.
“I think everyone motivates each other. We are a very close team, and everyone likes each other,” Ware said. “We’re super great friends, and I think when one person is pumped up on the court it just pumps everyone else up. It just goes down the line.”
Along with singles play, Miclat and Jones have found a way to mesh their skills in doubles, using their fierce competitiveness and energy to dominate, going 4-1 through March 21 as a pair.
“We just have a ton of energy together to compliment each other really well,” Jones said. “We both hit the ball hard, and we just get along really well — always saying really weird things to each other, and it just makes us laugh. If I’m ever down she says something super strange, and it just makes me laugh. It goes both ways; we’re just really positive with each other.”
The key to Miclat and Jones’ success also has to do with their ability to relax on the court, often yelling phrases like “Let’s go!” in distorted voices or unintentionally confusing their opponents by saying “BYU” in deep voices and cracking up in laughter afterwards.
“In a way I think it makes the people that we’re playing kind of mad because we’re laughing when they hit a good shot,” Jones said. “They think that we’re mocking them so they get all upset. It actually works out for us … it’s a good time.”
With the variety of personalities among the three freshmen, they compliment each other well and work hard for each other, something that, at the end of the day, is a breath of fresh air for head coach Jones-Spencer as she fights to take her girls to the next level.
“It’s a great group,” Jones-Spencer said. “When you bring in players that work hard, that have good attitudes and have the same goals, it just works. It meshes, and it kind of spreads to the other girls on the team. Bringing in this class, it wasn’t only that they were great tennis players; they had the right attitude, and it is all coming together.”