Kirsten Nielson, a member of the women's tennis team, gets ready to serve the ball during an afternoon practice at the Mesa Community College tennis courts on Oct. 4, 2022. (Photo by Monica D. Spencer/ The Mesa Legend)

Thunderbird’s tennis teams poised for postseason pursuit

The Mesa Community College men’s and women’s tennis teams have begun conference play, with both teams beating Glendale Community College on Tuesday, March 19. 

Both teams are coached by Feroz Rast, who in his fifth year is looking to help the men’s team with their 10th regional championship in a row as well as help the women’s team win their first under his coaching. 

Rast took over coaching duties at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic shortened 2020 season.

Women’s team fueled by new players and good communication

The women’s team has been able to rely on a strong freshman class, five of their eight players are freshman and have guided the Thunderbirds to a 3-0 conference start.

“Our expectations in the preseason was to win the conference because we had a very strong signing class coming in. Then hopefully top ten, top twelve at [the] national level,” said Rast.

The Thunderbirds currently sit ranked 24th in the country, though the rankings have not been updated since their last installment on March 7.

According to Rast, the team excels in doubles competition thanks to their movement, communication and versatility.

“Our first serve percentage on the woman’s side is amazing. They all know how to get their serves placed right, and spin right,” said Rast.

A weaker aspect of the team would be a lack of aggressiveness in play style, according to Rast. 

Rast noted how a quicker pace could help the team force opponents to play at the Thunderbird’s speed, rather than the other way around.

Mikaela Correa, who attended Hamilton High School in Chandler, has bolstered the Thunderbird’s starting group as she and fellow freshman Jackelin Almada Lopez played an integral role in the team’s 9-0 victory of GCC.

Rast also credits a strong back line consisting of the team’s sophomores for the development of the younger players on the roster, allowing the freshmen to gain vital experience in adjusting to the speed of the game at the college level.

“So [we’re] very strong up top, good leadership in the back, and then all around great team chemistry is what has changed it for us on the girl’s side,” said Rast. 

Men’s bring high hopes as young team battles for title

The men’s team entered the season expecting to win this year’s conference and secure a 10th consecutive title for the Thunderbirds.

The men’s team lost a conference match for the first time since 2013, excluding the pandemic shortened 2020 season, after falling to Paradise Valley Community College on Thursday, Feb. 22.

The Thunderbirds saw sophomore Fritchard Mulenga be ruled ineligible to play before the season. Additionally, sophomore Asad Okoye was out of the match against PVCC due to injury.

“We graduated a very strong group, so it’s a very young group on the men’s side that is working to kind of find that level we need to compete with the top players. It was a tough loss for us, but one that we’re going to learn from,” said Rast.

Both the team’s biggest strength and biggest weakness can be traced back to the team’s youth as six of the seven players on the roster are new to collegiate tennis, according to Rast.

“Our biggest strength is our energy on [the] court. Our ability to be coachable, to listen. Our biggest area of need right now is just getting that college experience, that toughness out there to make sure we can grind out those last tough points,” said Rast.

Both teams’ next matchup will be on the road against conference opponent Paradise Valley Community College on Tuesday, March 26, an opportunity for the men’s team to avenge the loss earlier in the season.

  • Adam Terro

    Adam Terro is the Sports Editor for the Mesa Legend. He joined the staff in January 2021 and first published with the Legend in fall 2020. His passion is for sports, specifically football and basketball.

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