Irene Agusti `24.5 returns the ball during Grinnell womens tennis March 2 game against Morningside University. The Pioneers won the face-off 5-4.
Irene Agusti `24.5 returns the ball during Grinnell women’s tennis’ March 2 game against Morningside University. The Pioneers won the face-off 5-4.
Meilynn Smith

Nationally-ranked women’s tennis sets the stage for NCAA appearance

Heading into the final weeks of their spring season, members of the Grinnell College women’s tennis team, equipped with their highest-ever national team ranking and two nationally ranked senior players, say they are feeling confident about their prospects of qualifying for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III championships. 

“It’s a really exciting season overall,” Irene Agusti `24.5 said. “It was a really exciting season in the fall individually, but the spring season as a team — it’s just been unreal.” 

Not only has the team achieved their goal of increasing their national ranking from 42 to 25, they are entering the Midwest conference tournament with an overall win-loss ratio of 19-3 and a conference win-loss ratio of 6-0. 

Utsah Kalra `25 hits the ball against Morningside University on March 2. (Meilynn Smith)

Given their previous success at the conference tournament in the past, Zach Hasenyager, Head Women’s Tennis Coach, said they expect to come out victorious and are now gearing up for the NCAA tournament. 

Hasenyager said he hopes the team makes it to the third round of the tournament, which they have accomplished before. In previous years they have lost against the University of Chicago before they could make it further than the third round. He said it is most likely the team will play against the University of Chicago, a top-five nationally ranked team, this time as well. 

With that in mind, Agusti emphasized the importance of the team’s mindset as they prepare for those final tough games. 

In the fall, Agusti was a finalist at the regional tournament and played in the national individual tournament in Georgia. “That was pretty exhilarating,” she said. 

Despite losing all her matches, Agusti said, “I left with that feeling of okay, I deserve to be here. And if I had believed more that I deserved to be there, then I would have done better.” 

Applying a similar mindset to the conference and NCAA tournaments, she said, “I think we need to start believing that we deserve to be there and that we can do it. It’s more about the mental aspect of like, okay, we’re all really good players, but who wants it more, who believes they can do it more?” 

“For the conference I feel like we’re pretty confident,” Utsah Kalra `25, said. “Nationals will obviously be tougher, but this is the most confident I’ve ever felt going into nationals with this team.”

Ioanna Giannakou `24 holds the ball during the Pioneer’s game against Morningside University. (Meilynn Smith)

In discussing what contributes to the team’s heightened success this season, Kalra credits “the depth” saying, “we have a lot of players at the same level. So every day at practice, anybody can beat anybody, which means every day you’re competing. And that puts you in a good mindset going into matches.”  

Erin Jarvis `25, said a lot of the team’s current success is due to the strength of their seniors, Agusti and Ioanna Giannakou `24, who are ranked 16th and 44th nationally by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), respectively. 

“They are so solid. Their class and the year above them has taken Grinnell from a team that’s gonna be in competition with conference to a team that’s gonna be in competition with nationals,” she said. “I think for our junior class, they’ve really set a level that encourages and pushes Utsah and myself to be better.” 

Looking ahead to the future of the team, Hasenyager said their two players graduating is “going to present an opportunity for other people to fill that void. And so it’ll be really great to see who really wants to step up and fill that. So that’s something I’m excited to see for next year.” 

The team has two more games before the conference tournament. They will first go against Washington University on Saturday, April 20 and then Coe College on Sunday, April 21. The conference tournament starts on Saturday, May 10 at Illinois College. 

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