By MILTON KENT
Whoever was the first to say that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades ought to have a chat with Ariel Burke.
The Tiger tennis team is familiar with the idea of getting close enough to get a win, only to have said victory elude you, and Burke, for one, is getting tired of it.
“That’s been the main issue,” said Burke (below), a sophomore on the Tiger tennis team. “We’ve all been trying, but we just can’t pull through the last couple of points. It ends up turning into them (the opponents) coming back and the opponents winning.”
To be clear, it’s not as if the Tigers are playing miserably. The team has posted, to date, a 10-6 team record, heading into Wednesday’s home match with Stony Brook.
The Tigers are getting solid contributions from sophomore Nani Lizana and freshman Ayana Dow, who posted singles victories in Sunday’s loss to Longwood. And Burke herself has played well, winning seven of her last 10 matches, to post a 9-4 singles record this season.
But the Tigers have dropped their last three matches, and the common thread seems to be how they finish.
“It’s more like you have to be really mentally strong for a sport like tennis,” said Burke. “So we’re just trying to get our mental game up more. That way, we can be able to finish those matches.”
There is an obvious answer for what has happened at the end of matches, namely the relative youth of the Towson roster.
You’d have to believe that the close losses the young players are encountering this year will pay dividends next year and beyond, as they grow and mature.
“Our team is very young,” said Burke. “I came in with five other freshmen last year and we’re still growing.”
You certainly can’t question the Tigers’ physical toughness. In the downtime between the short fall schedule and the longer spring slate, head coach Doug Neagle instituted a conditioning program that has the Towson players stronger and fitter.
The players regularly hit the weight room, not so much for strength, Burke said, but for conditioning.
In addition, during the winter, the players did regular running, not for distance, but in shorter sprints, which more closely duplicate the kind of running they’re likely to do in matches. And each player was given a specific meal plan to better regulate how and what they eat.
“That was one of our main goals, to concentrate on fitness, because we wanted to be a really fit team,” said Burke.
Burke also spent time during the winter break working on getting the hole out of her cross court forehand. She’s been doing a drill where she has to put 30 shots past the service line, which requires additional spin on the shot.
Burke and her teammates will have plenty of opportunities to hone their craft, as they are in the throes of a stretch where they’ll play nine matches in a two-week span.
The hope, of course, is that everything will come together in time for the CAA championships, which begin April 19 in Norfolk.
“We really want to get past the first round of the CAA tournament, and I’m really confident we can do that,” said Burke.