App State women’s tennis ready for fresh season under new coach

First+year+App+State+women%27s+tennis+head+coach+Ashleigh+Antal+coaches+her+team+during+a+recent+practice.+The+Mountaineers+begin+the+2021+season+Sunday+at+1+p.m.+in+Raleigh+against+the+Wolfpack+of+NC+State.+

Courtesy App State Athletics/Jay Crain

First year App State women’s tennis head coach Ashleigh Antal coaches her team during a recent practice. The Mountaineers begin the 2021 season Sunday at 1 p.m. in Raleigh against the Wolfpack of NC State.

Jhyrah DeLapp, Reporter

Last year, App State’s women’s tennis was off to a strong 6-4 start before the season was halted due to the pandemic. After an unprecedented and challenging offseason, the Mountaineers are preparing for the upcoming season with first-year head coach Ashleigh Antal. 

Antal, a Wilmington native, was a four-year starter and two-year captain for the Vanderbilt Commodores during her playing career. She helped Vanderbilt win a national championship in 2015 and was named an NCAA doubles all-American her senior season.   

Antal is fresh off of two successful seasons, from 2018 to 2020, with Long Beach State, a member of the Big West conference, as an assistant head coach. She helped lead Long Beach to a 25-10 record, its first conference title since 2015, and helped them to an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019. 

“I think we can win the conference and go to nationals, that’s my goal,” senior player María Zacarias said. “I think we have a really good team, new players and a coach. So, we are motivated to start playing.”

In the 2019-20 fall season, Zacarias led the team in doubles and singles victories. This year, she hopes to pick up some leadership roles, as she is one of two seniors on the roster. 

“The only thing I can do is just lead by example and do the right things, work hard and be a good teammate,” Zacarias said. “ I have to make them understand everything will be fine and we’ll have a good year and season even with all the circumstances.”

Due to the COVID-19, the NCAA has enforced safety protocols, which includes  testing three times a week and social distancing. 

“Our practices for tennis were usually distanced in general, so we don’t have to change too much,” sophomore player Virginia Poggi said. “We just wear our mask down and when people who are not from our team come around, we just pull them up.”

When talking about some of the teams’ strengths, both Zacarias and Poggi mentioned the diversity of the team, saying it put a chip on their shoulder. 

“The fact almost all of us are international means we had to work even harder to get this opportunity to get to play in the US for college,” Poggi, who is from Italy, said. “We really want to show people that we were worth the risk they took by offering us the spot. We really want to win and leave a mark in the US.”

When coaches join a program, they bring a new culture and perspective. Antal said she hopes the culture she builds with the Mountaineers will focus on helping her players be the best they can be. 

“I want to promote ownership. This team doesn’t exist for me, it doesn’t exist for our assistant coach Miller Hales, it exists for these girls,” Antal said. “They are in charge of the legacy they leave up here on the mountains.”

Antal credits a lot of her excitement as the Mountaineers’ new head coach to nostalgia and the fanbase of App State. 

“It’s just exciting to be here because I grew up an App State fan. This is my dream job and exactly where I wanna be,” Antal said. “Up here in Boone, there is such a culture for support of Appalachian State sports. You just can’t beat that type of community and environment,” Antal said.

The Mountaineers will open their season with a trip to Raleigh to face ACC opponent NC State on Sunday at 1 p.m.