HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky — The women’s tennis team hopes a lineup including seven returners, a standout transfer and three players from overseas will be the right mix in a new league.
NKU fall season is underway. The Norse opened the Fall season with a 7-0 victory Wednesday at home against Thomas More.
It was the beginning of a season the Norse hopes will be a successful one. NKU goes from being the northernmost school in the Atlantic Sun to being the southernmost school in the Horizon League.
The women, led by senior Hailey Shanahan at the top of the lineup, expect a successful season thanks to the move to the Horizon League and a deeper roster.
Shanahan, originally from Sale, Australia, came to NKU by way of Temple Community College in Texas.
“I had wanted to come to America to do college since I was 14,” Shanahan said. “I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. It was a huge adjustment to college tennis because we don’t have anything like college sports (in Australia). It’s so unique to America.”
Mother Nature had a rude welcome to Shanahan upon her arrival in the United States for college.
“I arrived in Michigan in January, so, in the middle of winter coming from Australian summer,” Shanahan said, laughing. “Coming in my freshman year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, coming into a mid-major D-I program where so much is expected of you.
“You can never expect the sheer volume of work that is ahead of you. I had a lot of overuse injuries from not being used to the bulk of the training.”
As the lone senior on the women’s team, Shanahan is hoping to set an example for her teammates.
“I’m looking to just make the most of every minute on court and in the weight room, just to get the best out of myself,” Shanahan said. “Being in the Horizon League, I’m looking to individually do some damage.”
In addition to having everyone back from a year ago, the Norse added Klara Skopac. A transfer from Nicholls State, Skopac came to the US from her hometown of Rijeka, Croatia.
“I’m so excited we didn’t lose anyone last year,” Shanahan said. “We’ve got a great transfer in from Nicholls State, Klara. She adds great depth to the lineup. I think if we’re all fit and healthy, we’re really going to contend in the Horizon League this year.”
Skopac checked several schools before deciding on joining the Norse.
“I looked at a lot of schools when I was transferring,” Skopac said. “Coach here seemed really cool. I loved the team from the first time when I talked to them.”
Playing tennis since she was five, Skopac plays an offensive style.
“I think I play really aggressive,” Skopac said. “I can also keep the ball in play for a really long time. My serve is solid and off the serve I can play really aggressive.”
Skopac discussed the new Horizon League while explaining her season goals.
“I would like us to qualify for conference, of course,” Skopac said. “I would like to play good in the conference. I would like to have good results, but I also want my team to have good results.”
The combination of returning strength and a strong transfer player has Coach Brian Nester optimistic.
“I hope to think everyone that is returning will be better than they were last year, mentally as well as physically,” Nester said. “Klara (Skopac) is an excellent addition. She’s hard working, has a good spirit about her. She proved at Nicholls State that she can play at the top of the lineup, and she’ll be at or near the top of the lineup here. She’s not only an experienced tennis player, but she’s very skilled in singles and doubles.”
Nester believes the women’s squad could have a strong upcoming season.
“I think we do have a chance at success,” Nester said. “For one, what the girls are doing in the confines of the NKU squad. The Horizon is still a difficult conference, but it doesn’t have the depth that the Atlantic Sun had. The top of the Atlantic Sun was a national caliber.
“As we move into the Horizon League, the competition is every bit as good, but it’s a northern-type of tennis. There are more indoor players, more aggressive, less of the grindy, hit 45 to 60 balls per point, so I think it’s to our advantage. We want to be steady, but with the personnel on the squad, I think we’re going to match up much better.”
Nester wants his team to control points rather than allowing their opponents to control play.
“If you’re controlling the action, you’re controlling your destiny,” Nester said. “Sometimes, when we went down to Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, we felt like we did a little too much running. It’s not that the team’s not in shape. After a while, you feel a little beat up.”
As with many sports, confidence and belief are a huge part of the winning formula. Nester said both of his teams can work together to make each other better.
“I think getting a winning mentality,” Nester said. “You have to get things done on the court, but you also have to believe in the journey. Both the men and women’s team, they have to help each other. You develop that belief, you develop that confidence and then you can go forward.”
Women’s tennis roster
Danielle Donahue, junior
Rheanna Morehart, sophomore
Sierra Nellessen, junior
Sydney Power, sophomore
Hailey Shanahan, senior
Klara Skopac, junior
Nicole Soutar, junior
Yasmine Xantos, junior
Fall tennis schedule
Friday/Saturday at Western and Southern Invitational, Mason, Ohio
October 2-4, NKU Open, HOME
October 14-18 at ITA Ohio Valley Regional, West Lafayette, Ind.