For the second consecutive week, an Augustana women’s tennis standout was honored with the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference player of the week title.
Sophomore Jessa Richards earned the same title on Feb. 11 following a perfect weekend of competition. In matches against USF and Upper Iowa, she remained undeffeated and led the team to 9-0 victories against both schools.
Richard’s doubles partner, senior Katie Jesperson, followed suit and was given player of the week title on Feb. 17 in recognition of her perfect singles and doubles record while leading the team to a 4-0 overall season record.
Together, the dynamic doubles team proved all but unstoppable. With a current 5-0 season record, the pair shut out 4 of their 5 matches with scores of 8-0, earning a No. 2 doubles ranking in the Central Region.
Jesperson said she began learning tennis from her dad when she was 10 years old.
“I love tennis because it is great exercise, it’s fun and I love that in college it’s a team sport,” Jesperson said. “It is also challenging and a lifetime sport. You can always improve or learn something.”
Richards started playing when she was eight years old and said she has been playing ever since. Her favorite aspect of tennis is that the sport can be played at both an individual and team level simultaneously.
“Individually, it’s fun to play singles,” she said. “It really challenges you mentally and physically to play your best while learning to rely and be confident in yourself.”
Along with the individual aspect, Richards said she loves being a team player.
“It doesn’t matter if one person on the team is playing outstanding, if the rest of the team is not, it could result in a loss,” she said. “This keeps everyone working hard to improve our own and each other’s games.”
Head women’s tennis coach Marc Kurtz said both women are perceived as key leaders on the team. He added that the doubles pair have become role models for the other team members to follow, encouraging them to work hard on and off the court.
“They basically work extremely hard in practice and don’t give their opponents or teammates any free shots,” Kurtz said. “If someone is going to win a free point off those two it’s because they earned it. Katie and Jessa will not let up and give away points.”
Both women have experienced a multitude of successes in their respective tenngjjgghh is careers. Richards said her biggest accomplishment as a tennis player was being named NSIC freshman of the year.
Jesperson said her biggest individual accomplishments were receiving 3rd place at state competition her senior year of high school and being named player of the year for the Augie 2012-2013 tennis season. As a member of the Augustana women’s team, Jesperson’s highlights included making it to the national competition her freshman year and getting to regionals and winning the conference title for the past 3 seasons.
The doubles partners have also experienced many memorable moments throughout their careers at Augie. Jesperson said her tennis experience has been positive.
“I learned a lot from coach Marc, and the girls on the team are all wonderful players and people. We have a great time. I got very lucky,” she said.
Richards agreed that overall her Augie tennis experience has been excellent.
“Not only has the team been competing well but it is also very fun to play with the team that we have,” she said. “We have a great coach who pushes us to improve and everyone gets along very well, creating many new and close friendships.”
Richards said her personal highlights include winning the conference tournament as a team last season and making it to the finals of the ITA/USTA Central Region Championship in Missouri during the fall season with Jesperson as her doubles partner.
But although the awards and honors continued to come in, both women agreed that aspects of their game could always be improved upon.
“Individually I want to improve my consistency, or as coach likes to yell during my matches, to ‘T the B’” (consistently moving from the service line to the baseline and back), Richards said. “As a team I hope to keep improving and practicing hard to reach all goals for the season.”
Jesperson added, “I want to improve my serve and net play especially in doubles. “Doubles is something our team as a whole is continuously working on,” she said.
As the spring season kicked into full gear, both women knew they had to keep playing at the top of their games in order to attain their desired level of team and individual success.
“I expect that we will continue to improve, win conference, and our ultimate goal is to make nationals,” Jesperson said.
While Richards added, “My main goal right now for the spring season is for our team to be practicing and playing to the best of our ability and to win the conference tournament.”
Kurtz agreed that there are skills each member of the team should continue working to improve.
“My goal for us is to keep improving everyday and hopefully we will be playing our best tennis at the end of the season,” he said.
In terms of the future prospects of women’s tennis, Kurtz was optimistic.
“I want the program to keep improving and moving forward,” he said. “We have done some good things over the last few years, and I not only want us to remain one of the top teams in the conference and region, but also a top 20 national team,” Kurtz said.
As a senior primed to graduate in May, Jesperson looked back on nearly four years of Augie women’s tennis with pride. She credits her dad with teaching her to love the game.
“He’s competitive, but also a good sport,” Jesperson said. “He really taught me about the mental aspect of the game.”
When the moment arrives for Jesperson to step off the court for the final time, she hopes to make a lasting impact on both her sport and teammates.
“I want to leave a legacy of sportsmanship, respect and hard work once my tennis career at Augustana comes to an end,” Jesperson said.