The spring semester is here, which means the Sacred Heart women’s tennis team is back in action as they begin their spring play with a 1-2 record thus far. Their first win of 2022 was against Binghamton University on Jan. 28.
Last season, Sacred Heart finished as the number three seed heading into the Northeast Conference (NEC) championships, but number six seed Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) pulled off a first round upset over the Pioneers. This coming spring, the team is using this loss as motivation to come back stronger.
“Losses help us adjust, find new strengths, try new tactics, become more determined and that’s exactly how we become better tennis players,” said junior Ciara O’Toole. “We now know what to expect and the level of play within the NEC teams.”
O’Toole and sophomore Katsiaryna Starastsenka put together a 2-1 record in doubles play this past fall with victories over Monmouth University and The College of Holy Cross.
“I really enjoy playing doubles with Ciara and I think that the most prominent aspect that has led to our success in doubles play is the atmosphere that we create,” said Starastsenka. “Since none of us feel pressure of being judged, it lets us take pleasure in our game and go for our best shots.”
The return of Coach Mike Guastelle will also be a factor in the team’s ability this spring season.
Following a four-year hiatus, Guastelle returned to the women’s program as interim head coach in the fall. He was the longtime head coach of both men’s and women’s programs until 2017. Guastelle resumed full-time head coaching duties this spring.
“I really missed the day-to-day interaction with the tennis student-athletes the last four plus years,” said Guastelle. “I am looking forward to leading the team this year.”
Guastelle started the tennis programs at Sacred Heart in 1994. He served as head coach for the men’s program through the 2005 season and continued as head coach for the women’s program until 2017. Over those years, Guastelle amassed 262 total wins between both programs.
One of the biggest challenges Guastelle faces as he transitions back into a full-time head coaching job is building relationships with his players. Many of his players were not on the team the last time Guastelle coached. The previous head coach recruited most of them.
“I need to build a personal and coaching relationship with those younger players on our team,” said Guastelle. “They need to learn what I am all about as a person and a coach, and I need to find out what their goals are and how to most effectively coach and communicate with them.”
It will be a busy spring for the Pioneers as they have 17 matches slated in the upcoming three months, including head-to-head bouts with Harvard University, University of Connecticut, and the University of Rhode Island. Their in-conference matches will begin Feb. 18 with a home match against the defending NEC champions, Long Island University (LIU).
“My main expectation is that we put forth a great effort each day at practice and show improvement throughout the semester,” said Guastelle. “I think we have enough talent to challenge for an NEC title this year.”
Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.