Tennis acclimating to individual seasons

Chase Glover, Managing Editor

The North Alabama Men’s and Women’s tennis teams have to acclimate to a new type of season this year. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of the year for many sports, however tennis is a rarity in how they will compete; definitely in Florence, Ala.

The Tennis’ teams are not allowed to compete in groups this fall and are awaiting a decision for their season during the winter-spring terms. Athletes for both Tennis teams have had to play individual competitions instead of team play.

Last year, the Lions teams performed decently for the most part. The Men’s team left a 3-12 record on the board while the Women’s team posted a 6-9 record overall.

Both teams have their players traveling to certain areas to play in these individual tournaments. The teams have traveled to Huntsville so far, but more areas that are coming up will be Tuscaloosa and Atlanta, among others.

Players such as junior Sydney Flesch, sophomore Lee Taylor Bishop and sophomore Nicole Reilly have pioneered this new situation for the Tennis teams.

“Fall season, last year, was more team based,” Flesch said. “We went with the coach in the van packed up and stayed in the hotels (for tournaments). This year, none of that is allowed to happen, so that means we have to go to competitions individually on our own free will. We get to pick where we want to go and when we want to go; all the expenses are on us.”

The three women’s teammates mention that it has been tough, going to tournaments on their own and saving the money for their travels. They break it down to complete motivation on their own part for them to want to take such actions.

“We just don’t know what is going to happen,” Reilly said. “We don’t know if we will have a season in the spring; we are all just waiting.”

The typical North Alabama tennis season starts in January and ends in April, however with last season cut short both teams finished at the start of March.

The NCAA has not released information yet on the progress of spring sports and how they will interact currently. Major league organizations such as the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL have been performing and continued on their seasons that were cut short. It seems that they have all run smoothly up to this point for the most part.

Individual competitions for the tennis teams have kept the players in shape but the nostalgia for last season has become a mainstay in the players minds. This is where head coach Brice Bishop has become a cornerstone for his teams.

“[Coach] always tells us the same thing,” Reilly said. “His favorite thing to say is ‘This is just a time of adversity and that we just have to get through it.”

North Alabama prides themselves on having diversity not only throughout their whole campus, but also through their sports teams, organizations and athletes.

Tennis is one of the biggest organizations in the sense as they have many players that come from different parts of the world. Players come from all over such as Germany, New Zealand, Brazil, Denmark, Ireland and Austria.

This becomes a struggle for the individual tournaments, as many of these players do not have the access to their own financials or transportation. This means they have to depend on other players to navigate a way for them to get there.

Coach Bishop cannot be with these players at any of their tournaments because of the NCAA ruling. This means that Bishop cannot help his players out by driving them, paying for their expenses or coaching them for these individual tournaments.

Many teams around the country did not have their seasons cancelled, which allows them to not struggle with these problems like North Alabama. Teams that have not had their seasons cancelled are allowed to have coaches present at matches, expenses helped on or paid for and they can play single or double matches.

“UAB was not cancelled,” Reilly said. “They were there as a team, their expenses were covered, and their coach was available to be there.”

These are the benefits that the men’s and women’s tennis teams are missing out on with their season being cancelled for the fall term. These players or teams can also wear their school uniforms, another loss that UNA tennis has to hold onto for the time being.

“We are not allowed to wear our uniforms to those tournaments,” said Lee Taylor Bishop. “We can wear our UNA stuff but cannot wear the actual uniform. We wear the top of the uniforms, but with different shorts; we just cannot wear it all together.”

This has come from the result of the pandemic outbreak that started last March. The reason it cut their last season short, now the reason they have no fall season and the reason they are awaiting a decision for a spring season chance.

“We had weights at 6 a.m. that morning,” Flesch said. “One of our seniors had actually been joking about it [cancellation of the season] as well. That same day we went out to practice and had no idea of what was going on; everyone kept saying ‘What is going on? What is going on?’. Then we all met and sat together in the middle of court one and talked about our favorite memories that we had. Then two hours later we all got the [same] text that the season was done; we were all crying, and we all ended up going home.”

As heartbreaking as it was for the Tennis teams to lose their seasons, it became more individually heartbreaking for certain members of both teams.

The athletes that were from different countries had to leave by the end of the week. The pandemic, however, had caused some countries to shut down their borders which made it harder for players to get home to their families.

“Some of them didn’t even know if they could get into the country,” Bishop said. “Their borders were locked down; one of our guys did not leave until May or [early] June. All of his stuff is actually still here [in Florence] and he has to find a way to get rid of it or sell it.”

The Lion’s Tennis programs have been hard at work to stay healthy and train for a new season. The adversity and tribulations that they have faced has become unlike any other program here at North Alabama.

Players struggling to get home to families in foreign countries, financially compensating for their own tournaments, navigating their own transportation and all without a coach that cannot physically be there for them in-person for the time being.

However, the Tennis programs have fought through this and train everyday as the NCAA will call saying that their season will be renewed; that they will be able to come together to reform their Tennis teams.

“That is what we are expecting,” Flesch said. “As of right now we are expecting to have a [spring] season.”

No official schedule has been released yet for the teams as they are in the gray matter period. However, the women attest to that the season will hopefully start in the first couple weeks of January, pitting them against the Tennessee Volunteers for the third straight season opener if their season is rectified.