By Katie Cottam, Duke Sports Information Student Assistant
DURHAM, N.C.-- The start of the 2014 season is looking bright for the women’s tennis team. With a full roster, a healthy team, and a desire to win, there is nothing stopping the Blue Devils from making a big comeback.
Since its start in 1977, Duke has won 17 ACC Championships, made 24 NCAA tournament appearances, and claimed the 2009 NCAA title. These statistics hardly look like those of a struggling team, but 2013 proved to be a difficult season for the Blue Devils.
Plagued by injury and other circumstances, the team was forced to play with only 4-5 student-athletes in some matches. The roster was so slim that a soccer player, Nicole Lipp, was recruited to fill the void. Benched following Tommy John surgery, Rachel Kahan was left to watch her teammates from the stands.
“It’s was hard to not be a full part of team last season,” Kahan said, “but what they did last year was insane and awesome to watch.”
Recovery was not an easy process for Kahan, but her determination and perseverance to return to the court was evident. She spent her time away working to rest and heal other minor injuries while increasing her overall fitness. She continued to watch the game from a different perspective, absorbing information from her coaches and teammates.
Kahan returned to the court on January 24th against Columbia as the Blue Devils cruised to a 4-0 victory in the ITA Kickoff in Durham. Despite being sidelined for over 17 months, she won her singles match. Rachel was back.
“All of the other girls ran over to her and hugged her,” commented Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth on Kahan’s first match. “I think it was a great thing for the girls and our whole program.”
Kahan’s return has been uplifting for the team’s spirit. With a full, healthy roster, the Blue Devils are looking to reclaim the top slot in the ACC and, hopefully, a National Championship.
The larger team size will be a major asset for the Blue Devils this season.
“Having everyone back has allowed us the freedom to prepare how we want to prepare, from a conditioning standpoint to on the court,” said Ashworth. “We feel like we can do more because we have a little flexibility, not just in practice, but also in matches.”
This added depth is something that the Blue Devils have lacked for a while, but are excited to have for this season.
Aside from the depth and range of experience, this team’s real strength lies in their level of dedication to each other. Being a very individualized sport at times, the challenge of creating a healthy team atmosphere can be a challenge, but not for the Blue Devils.
“These girls really enjoy playing for each other and not for themselves,” Ashworth commented. “It is a hard thing to do, but they do a great job of supporting each other and really wanting the best for each other.”
Already ranked 10th in the most recent ITA poll with a 4-0 record, the Blue Devils are back and ready to compete.
So what is the real key to winning the National Championship? According to Ashworth, “We just have to continue to play for each other.”