The Augustana men’s and women’s tennis teams recently traveled to tropical Puerto Rico for 10 days of international competition, team bonding and a hardy dose of island sun and sand. 

Prior to the spring break trip, members of both the men’s and women’s squads were happy to take a short reprieve from the South Dakota weather.

“I’m most looking forward to the weather in Puerto Rico,” sophomore Jared Hofer said.  “On the cold days here in South Dakota, it seems like somebody on the team has been looking at the weather in Puerto Rico and seeing that it is around 85 degrees there everyday.”

Junior Heather Sullivan concurred.

“Of course I’m looking forward to enjoying the Puerto Rican sun and sand with my teammates,” Sullivan said, adding that she was also excited to compete against Division I teams.

Coach Marc Kurtz anticipated the positive temperature change as a learning experience for his athletes.

“It will be nice to finally get a chance to play outside since it’s been such a long winter,” Kurtz said.  “Playing outside is much different than playing indoors so we need to get that experience again.”

Kurtz said the trip to Puerto Rico would be a new experience for both him and his players.

“We’ve always gone through a program that has teams down in Orlando, but in the last few years Puerto Rico was added to the destinations, so we decided to go there,” Kurtz said.

While in Puerto Rico, the women’s squad competed against tennis teams from Valparaiso, Robert Morris, St. Joseph’s University, Providence and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.  The men faced off against St. Joseph’s University, Wabash College, the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez and the University of Puerto Rico-Humacao.

Both teams went into the matches with high expectations for themselves as individuals and as teams.

“Personally, I’m hoping to be able to play within myself, and we’ll see where it goes from there,” junior Collin Noldner said.  “Hopefully I can win my matches and help the team out.”

The men started out the trip with 0-9 and 2-7 setbacks against St. Joseph’s University and Wabash College, respectively. The third day of competition brought redemption for Augustana when the team defeated the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez 8-1.  The men ended on a high note with a 9-0 shutout against the University of Puerto Rico-Humacao, bringing their overall season record to 5-7 as they return to the states for the final three matches of the 2014 season.

The Augustana women faced similar challenges on the opening day of competition. The team fell 0-9 to Division I powerhouse St. Joseph’s—their first loss of the season. But the team bounced back as the trip continued, defeating Robert Morris 8-1, Providence 9-0, the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez 9-0 and Valaparaiso 8-1.  Improving to 13-1 on the season, the team hoped to continue their winning streak as they headed returned home.

In the midst of their competition schedule, the athletes found time to enjoy their exotic international excursion by touring the island, snorkeling and surfing.

“Hanging out and enjoying the weather while we could was the main activity, along with getting a little sunburnt,” Hofer said.

As the teams headed back to South Dakota, they continued to focus on goals for the rest of the tennis season, particularly mental toughness, according to Hofer.

“In the beginning of the year we lost some matches we should have won due to a weakness in our mental games,” Hofer said.  “It is improving, but you can never be too mentally tough.”

Junior Jackson Buchanan agreed.

“The team needs to work on playing smarter, not harder,” Buchanan said.

Kurtz added that he has been happy with the effort demonstrated by both squads thus far in the season.

“Both teams have earned some good wins, and I’m excited about the progression that we are making as a team,” he said.  “We’ve been working really hard on our doubles play and strategies, and it has definitely been paying off.”

Sullivan believed there were still many things the team could improve on, emphasizing that the athletes are focusing on working hard everyday in practice in the hopes of being successful during post-season competition.

“We don’t want to stay at the same level, we want to keep getting better,” Sullivan said.