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JMU tennis began its fall season last weekend. 

As the Dukes return to the court, they’re ready to cause a racquet.

With the fall season underway, both JMU men’s and women’s tennis have set their sights on preparing for the spring dual season — but that doesn’t mean the teams aren’t focused on going to each tournament and producing results.

In college tennis, teams compete in both individual and team tournaments over the fall semester ahead of dual matches and postseason tournaments in the spring. The fall team tournaments have no effect on the team’s record outside of providing matchplay for the players.

JMU men’s tennis improving impressive 2021-22 season

Men’s tennis head coach Steve Secord said getting back into the swing of things is the priority during fall tournament season. With tennis being an individual sport to most, playing for a team requires commitment to not just yourself but the rest of the team, Secord said, and the players are buying into that.

“We’re just trying to get back into the team mode,” Secord said. “A lot of the tournaments in the fall are individually based … I think ultimately, it’s always an adjustment to just get in that mindset of competing for your team.”

The individual tournaments, however, such as the ITA All-American Championships and ITA Regional Championships, provide opportunities for some players to compete against the best players in the area. For example, senior Holden Koons made program history last fall by becoming the first JMU men’s player to advance to the main draw of the All-American Championships.

Alongside Koons this season is a retooled roster from last year. Freshman Julian Lozano and Aathreya Mahesh join the squad this fall, as well as Canon Secord — Steve Secord’s son — a graduate transfer from Bridgewater College. A third freshman, Francisco Sinopoli, will arrive in Harrisonburg in January for the dual season.

As he enters his fourth year as a Duke, Koons said it’s been so far, so good for the new members. While life as a student-athlete is an adjustment, he said, that’s why they practice and play in the fall.

“It takes time to get used to being a student-athlete with class schedules and everything,” Koons said. “I think their games are right there. Going from junior to college tennis is an adjustment, but that’s the good thing about the fall.”

Another team veteran who’s noticed the change the new players have brought to the team is redshirt sophomore Youssef Sadek. Sadek was seen primarily at No. 3 singles and at No. 1 doubles with Koons in the lineup last year, including being named to the All-CAA Doubles Second Team.

Sadek said the team has come into this fall with a more focused approach to training, both on and off the court. Despite losing some players to the transfer portal, Sadek said he likes where the team is at.

“I think we’re all very motivated to work,” Sadek said. “We’re doing more physical work in practice. I can see all the guys are fresh. They’re ready to start competing in tournaments … I think we’re in good shape.”

A new era awaits JMU women’s tennis

The women’s team is also reforming its roster. Head coach Shelley Jaudon has brought in three new freshmen — Haley Glen, Reka Matko and Daria Munteanu — and a sophomore transfer from Idaho University, Ines Oliveira.

Sophomore Hope Moulin said these four have quickly acquainted themselves with the team, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed. They’ve made themselves at home, she said, which will only help the rest of the team as they play tournaments this fall.

“They’ve all really come in and shown that they’re not scared,” Moulin said, “and that they’ve come here to work and be a part of this team and do what it takes. I hand it to them for showing up the way they did, taking the initiative.”

After maintaining an impressive run over the past couple of seasons, including a CAA championship in 2021, Jaudon said the new players have brought a lively feel to the team. She’s forever grateful for the seniors who graduated last year, she said, but this change was necessary as they enter the Sun Belt Conference.

“It’s been exciting to have some new faces and energy,” Jaudon said. “I think it was time for that. We had an incredible group of seniors that graduated and had great careers. We had been such an established team for up to three years [with] the same girls, so it’s been fun to see new relationships being built.”

One of those veterans still around is redshirt senior Daria Afanasyeva, who enters her fifth year with the team. Playing in the No. 3 position for most of 2021, Afanasyeva tallied a 14-7 record in singles and was named to the All-CAA third team.

As part of that conference championship team, Afanasyeva said, she likes where the team is at in the early stages of the fall season. As they up the level of play in the practice, she said this will yield better results both this season and in the spring.

“Comparing from years before to now based on practice matches we’ve played against each other,” Afanasyeva said, “I think the level [of play] is higher and I think the team will be competing [at a higher level]. I think the results will be better.”

At the Elon Fall Invitational last weekend, Afanasyeva placed third in her singles flight and in her doubles flight with her partner, freshman Matko. Overall, Afanasyeva went 4-2 on the weekend combining singles and doubles.

With the team preparing for the remaining tournaments this fall, Jaudon said the work they’re putting in now will pay off in the success they hope to have throughout this year.

“Our program has developed a mental toughness that sets us up to do well as we transition into the Sun Belt,” Jaudon said. “I think we’re setting ourselves up and working hard to have a good year.”

Contact Craig Mathias at mathiack@dukes.jmu.edu. For more tennis coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.