The UMW women’s tennis team, ranked No. 14 out of 328 Division III teams in the nation, kicked off their fall season in early September at the Naval Academy’s Bill and Sandra Moore Invitational in Annapolis, Md. UMW and Johns Hopkins University were the only Division III schools at the tournament, competing against Division I teams such as George Mason University and Saint Bonaventure University.
“It is an honor to participate in the Navy invitational; it is an incredibly well run tournament and the facilities are great,” said junior business administration major Riley Smith, a member of the team. “It is always a learning experience as we all adjust to the fast-paced speed of high level competition, but everyone competed well and improved a lot over the weekend.”
The Eagles showed a strong teammate connection, with senior psychology major Abigail Moghtader and freshman Rebecca Stepleman making it all the way to the semi-finals in doubles and several other athletes making it past the first few rounds of both singles and doubles.
The team was accompanied by their new coach, Alexandra Covington, who came to UMW after serving as the director of tennis at Millikin University since 2017.
“My goal is to continue building on the success the program has had in the past few years,” said Covington. “My number one goal is always to facilitate athlete development and provide them with a positive experience. I hope to bring them a fresh perspective and a positive environment where they feel like they will improve and grow as students, athletes, and people.”
Admired for her attention to detail, high energy and overall passion for coaching the sport, players say Covington is an asset to the team.
“We are lucky to have Coach Covington because she brings a lot to the table,” Smith said. “From her high energy personality and passion for the sport to her detail-oriented organizational skills and technical eye, she is a valuable addition to the program.”
Last season, the team finished with an overall record of 13-6, with Moghtader and doubles partner Lauren Quinn, who has since graduated, dropping a 6-2, 7-6 decision to a doubles pair from Williams College in the NCAA Division III national doubles championship semifinals on May 29. The doubles pair finished their year with a winning record of 21-8 and high hopes that the next pair would make it even further and defend their reign as Coast-to-Coast Athletic Conference champions.
The team houses individually-ranked players such as Moghtader, who currently is ranked No. 50 in the country among Division III collegiate women tennis players.
Coming from a family of collegiate tennis players, Moghtader began swinging the racket since she was 4 years old, crediting the support and coaching she received from her family and past coaches such as Catullo and Todd Hebling to her success in recent years.
“Winning, being highly ranked, and being named an All American are all amazing and impressive achievements,” said Moghtader. All American is a national award granted annually by the NCAA to college athletes for outstanding performance.AA to college athletes for outstanding performance. “But I find that sometimes just being out there on the court and having the opportunity to play against such great players is what motivates me the most.”
The team has four new additions this year: freshmen Haleigh Latta, Madison McCarty and Rebecca Stepleman as well as Alexandra Jaksec, a Pittsburg native and transfer from LaRoche University.
Jaksec, a senior business administration major, is carrying out her senior year and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, extra year of tennis eligibility at UMW.
“Living in Pittsburgh my whole life and attending college there for 3 years, I felt as if I needed a fresh start mentally and physically at a new school,” said Jaksec. “Fortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was able to transfer to UMW with 2 years of eligibility to play at a high level while also pursuing a business degree.”
Coming from a tennis program where she had to readjust to a new coach every year, having to transition to UMW’s coach was her only worry when offered the opportunity to transfer. But that has not been a problem.
“She genuinely wants to teach us and help us become the best tennis players we can be,” Jaksec said about Covington. “Once we met her and had our first week of practice, everything seemed to fall into place and all of that worry we felt went away. She’s a great coach and I’m excited for what’s to come!”
This past weekend, UMW hosted the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Regional Tournament at the Battleground Complex Tennis Center. Moghtader advanced to round 16 in singles, and doubles duo senior Amanda Hagino and junior Hana Kimmey made their way to the semifinals where they ultimately lost 8-7.
The team will compete next in Philadelphia for the St. Joseph’s Invitational from Friday, Sept. 30 to Sunday, Oct. 2.