Game, Set, Match

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Photo: Liz Flynn

Photo: Liz Flynn

In sports, sometimes, teams get hot.

The Cleveland Indians rattled off 22 wins in a row last season. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers won 19 in a row over two seasons back in 2010. Heck, even Wilhelm Steinitz had a 25-match unbeaten streak in chess in the late 1800’s.

In MAAC women’s tennis, however, nobody has been hotter than the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

As of April 15, 2018, the Bobcats have an all-time record of 44-0 against MAAC opponents, a streak that has reached its fifth season. Each of the last four seasons, the team has reached the first round of the NCAA tournament. For junior Proyfon Lohaphaisan and her teammates, the main focus is taking it one day at a time.

“We just have to remind each other that we’re here for a job, we’re here to play, and we’re here to win,” Lohaphaisan said. “All of us have the privilege to represent the school, and we should show off what kind of talent and skill we have.”

It’s no secret that the Bobcats have found the recipe for success. When you ask the players what makes their team so special, they credit their teammates and the chemistry between them.

“I think we have a lot of variety on this team, which is what sets us apart from others,” sophomore Amy Zammarieh said. “We’re so diverse, and everyone has their own skills that they bring to the team.”

After graduating four seniors last season, some were uncertain if the streak would continue into season five. The 2017-18 squad has the largest freshman class (four) since 2013, and no seniors for the first time since 2011.

They’ll have to lose a MAAC match at some point, right?

Wrong. The freshmen class has dominated out of the gate, making their presence felt from day one. Michigan native Dominique Vasile is one of the four newcomers. She believes she wouldn’t be where she is today without the help of the returners, and she may have a point. Vasile is 8-3 as the team’s top singles player. Her and Lohaphaisan are also 8-1 as the second doubles pair; Her 8 singles wins are already more than any other player had last season.

“I really look up to them,” Vasile said of Lohaphaisan and Zammarieh. “Coming in and being on a team is completely new (to me), but they’ve been so welcoming, and I know that I can count on them.”

One of the points that Vasile brought up is exactly what the Bobcats’ upperclassmen are trying to do. A number of tennis players come in having never been part of a real tennis team. They’ll go their entire lives without having to cheer on another player, and that’s a mindset that the returning players are working to change.

Photo: Liz Flynn

Photo: Liz Flynn

“Most of the freshmen haven’t been on a team before, and Amy and I have,” Lohaphaisan said. “You’re so used to cheering for yourself all the time. But, once you get onto a team, you’re like ‘great, I get to cheer for someone else, too.’”

When asked how to describe their team, all of the players seemed to agree on the same word: family.

According to Coach Miller, this is a tradition that’s been passed down through generations of Quinnipiac women’s tennis teams. She would know, too, as she was the first recruit of Mike Quitko, the program’s first-ever coach. Now in her fourth season as head coach, she works daily to extend Coach Q’s legacy to her players.

“He always had a dynamic of a family atmosphere,” she said. “We recruit kids that are going to fit the mold of Quinnipiac, and not always just their talent.”

With a team poised for another run at a MAAC title, it’s easy to start to look further down the road. A regular season title, then a conference title, then a trip to the NCAA tournament and that’s just the beginning.

For Coach Miller and her players, however, that’s not the case. They’re always thinking about the next day’s practice or workout, and whoever the next opponent may be. The mindset is simple, really.

You can’t win an NCAA title without winning the next conference match.

“The end goal is to win championships and to get to NCAAs,” Zammarieh said. “But, I think our biggest focus is tomorrow’s match, because every match counts. Whether it’s a conference match or an extra match, every one does count because it pushes us to get better.”

“Every year, our goal is to win MAACs and go to the NCAA tournament,” Miller added. “Right now, we’re also looking at keeping the streak alive. But, first and foremost is winning the MAAC, and then hopefully something further.”

As the Quinnipiac women’s tennis team finished their practice for the day and arranged themselves for post-practice stretches, they laughed and joked like it was any normal Wednesday.

They all knew what was at stake the next day. A winning streak spanning five seasons, first place in the MAAC, and a spot in the record books.

So, when you head over to the tennis courts to check out a match, you better come prepared. Bring your four-leaf clovers, and wear your luckiest pair of underwear, because the Bobcats are making history.

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