After a COVID-19 pause delayed the start of the 2022 spring season for the Arizona women's tennis team, the Wildcats finally got to take the court on Monday where they swept the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State on the road. The Wildcats could hardly wait any longer to take the court led by head coach Ryan Stotland.
"It feels great," Stotland said. "It has been a long time coming. It feels like it has been forever, but we're just excited to be on the court and this last road trip was a big testament to win in two states. It was a credit to the team, especially still being short-handed."
This is a completely new team from last season that sees seven newcomers. That includes five freshmen that make up the No. 17 class in the country according to Tennis Recruiting led by one Blue Chip recruit to go along with two five-stars and two four-star recruits.
Stotland mentioned how much different COVID-19 has made the recruiting process.
"It formed a little bit different of a bond because we didn't actually get to meet in person," Stotland said. "It was a very different class because I had to get to know them through Zoom, which is a lot different than being in person. I think we did a really good job of getting down to the root of who we wanted and the personalities that really worked together and obviously great tennis talent."
Stotland believes that both of Arizona's tennis programs are headed in the right direction.
"I think the vibe here is just picking up, especially with the men's team doing so well," Stotland said. "I think our team is on the rise. It is a really fun and exciting time to be part of this program."
There was just one player on last year's team who was not a junior or senior, and that was Kayla Wilkins, who is coming off a season where she was named Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 after winning 10 singles matches. This also included two-ranked victories. She alluded to the new team dynamic with so many players coming in who weren't on the team last year.
"Everyone has done a great job," Wilkins said. "I think we have great upperclassmen here and we're all helping build this team together and build it to the top team that we think it can be."
However, not all of the new players on the team this year are freshmen. One of them is Salma Ziouti, a graduate student who transferred over to Tucson after playing the last three years at Drexel University. Despite looking at many other schools, Ziouti mentioned the weather and location as two big reasons why she chose to come play for Arizona.
"I always wanted to go to school on the West Coast because my undergrad was done on the East Coast," Ziouti said. "Arizona was a great choice and I'm so happy I came here. The coaches are amazing and very dedicated and invested in us and this team. Our schedule is also tough and it is challenging and motivating to keep working hard."
It is not only Ziouti's talent on the court that stands out, but also her personality on and off the court that has been noticed by Wilkins.
"[Ziouti] brings a lot of experience to the court," Wilkins said. "She is a great player and super athletic with a great game all around. She also brings a lot of energy and fire to the court, so it has been fun competing next to her and that energy is contagious, so we're super grateful [Stotland] brought her to the team."
Up next for the team is the home opener on Saturday against the San Diego State team and Stotland knows it won't be easy.
"They have a couple of the best players in the country," Stotland said. "They are going to be a very tough out so we know that we have to bring it and we hope that the fans can come help us get this big victory. If we can get this victory, I think it will really help us propel moving forward."
The Wildcats match against the Aztecs starts at 11 a.m. MST on Saturday at the LaNelle Robson Tennis Center.
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