St. Olaf women’s tennis concluded its season this past week with a 5-4 victory over St. Benedict, securing a 7-6 overall record to finish over .500 for the first time in two seasons. Though the Oles narrowly missed a playoff seeding for the second consecutive year, their performance in conference matchups noticeably improved thanks to a fiery first-year class that comprises over half the active roster. This provides considerable hope that this relatively young team can keep building on its marginal improvement, becoming a serious contender as soon as next season. We caught up with graduating veteran Sophia Skoglund ’18 to discuss the future of St. Olaf tennis and her final performance with the team.
Q: What are some positive takeaways from this season, and what’s something that the team needs to improve going forward?
A: I think beyond the technicalities of the sport itself, something I saw improve this year was how close of a group we were. I think it’s exciting that this came from the incoming freshmen who all bonded right away as a group. Because there were so many of them, they ended up bringing that vibe to the rest of us, and I thought that was really special. I think that closeness transferred over to the heart that we play with. You end up not just playing for yourself, you’re not only playing for the points, match, or score that you need to win. You’re playing for your teammates, too. While I think that’s something I’ve had in all four years here, I think I felt it especially strongly this year. It’s been cool to see the team closeness transferred over to that drive to play well.
We didn’t have the best season score-wise, but there were a lot of super close matches and tough battles, so in a way I feel like we still won a lot and did what we aimed to do. For improvement, I think there’s technical things we can work on, but it’s mostly about finding that extreme focus level that we need to think point-by-point rather than game-by-game. It’s more about thinking on a smaller scale.
Q: You mention team closeness – were there team building activities you did outside of practice? What helped with that the most?
A: We didn’t end up scheduling a lot of events to do together per se, but a lot of the team would sit and do homework together or just be like, “hey, I’m coming to this if anyone wants to come along.” It’s just a good group to reach out to. We get meals with each other almost everyday, usually dinner before or after practice. Even within the sport we end up spending a ton of time together.
Q: You mention ending up on the wrong side of a lot of close matches this year. What needs to be the difference in those clutch moments to reverse those fortunes?
A: I think it is the scale in which we’re thinking about each match, at least I know that’s true for me, so I feel like it might be true for others too. You go into this match, and of course you want to win it, but you might end up thinking on too big of a scale. We have to start thinking about the importance of each single point. We ended up on the wrong side of the tipping point mostly because we were letting go of some single points early on that might not seem important at the time but end up being crucial in the long run. Micromanaging that match is super important, and I think we’re really close to that. We have all the technical abilities. It’s just about developing the right focus, and I think we’re so close.
Q: Walk me through what was going through your head during the final series of matches against St. Ben’s. How were you processing the closure of it all in the moment?
A: I honestly had to push that out of my head while I was playing because it was a super emotional day, but I know that when I play my matches I have to tuck away my emotions. Some people can play with them, but when I try that it doesn’t turn out too well, so I usually hide them. I think through both of my matches I had to convince myself that it was normal, just playing another match that isn’t any different. I focused instead on having a lot of fun, because I knew whether I won or lost, if I had fun, I was going to walk away feeling good about it. That’s exactly how it turned out.
Q: Was it harder after you were done with your matches?
A: Yeah, absolutely. I no longer had to tuck away those emotions, so they kind of all came out along with the rest of my teammates. But I think that just proves that one of the cool things about tennis for me has been that it allows me to step away from everything else going on in my life during that moment, which is often a lot of stressful stuff. Right until the end it proved to be that escape for me.
Q: Do you plan on keeping tennis as a part of your life after college?
A: The whole time I’ve played tennis I’ve been told by literally everyone, “oh, tennis is a life-long sport, that’s so great that you’re playing tennis” and everything. While I agree with that, I’m also extremely sad to be leaving a school team because I think a lot of my experience with the sport has been being a part of a team like this and having that school spirit and working with these people who are in my community. Even if I join a USTA women’s league down the road, which I hope to do, it will be very different. That’s just how it is. But I’m happy that I can keep playing tennis, and I can still play with my teammates over the summer. It’s cool that I can keep playing, but I will miss the setting, competition, and school spirit behind tennis here for sure.