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Pushing forward

by Matthew Ondesko, Owner/Publisher

Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union

Slumps are a part of life. Most athletes at some point in their lifetime will go through a slump. It could be a hitter that is 0-23, or a basketball player that can’t make a shot in the fourth quarter. Even tennis players have gone through some major slumps.

Not being able to win a match can have an effect on a person’s mental stability. Doubts of am I ever going to win a match can easily creep in. Wondering if you are good enough to play at this level is also something that a player goes through.

Daemen College tennis player Mackenzie Schayes went through some early struggles on the tennis court that had her doubting herself. Her freshman year on the Amherst campus didn’t go to plan. She struggles at times with confidence - and feeling like she belonged on the same court as the other players.

It was a tough transition early on coming from high school and moving up to the Division II level. It had Schayes wondering at times if she belonged. If she was meant to be there.

“I don’t think I quite knew how challenging it was going to be until we played our first couple of matches my Freshman year. The skill level that many of my teammates and opponents possessed was increasingly better from what I experienced as a high school athlete,” stated Schayes. “Yes, there were definitely times my freshman year where I was questioning if my skill level was up to par. I remember telling myself to not compare my level of play to my opponent or other players because that could bring down my confidence.”

While the results weren’t were she wanted them to be, Schayes made a decision that most athletes might not have made. She dedicated herself on the process and not the results. Of course she wanted to win, and help her teammates, but Schayes also wanted to get better.

She used her freshman season as a way to learn what she needed to do to be able to compete on the same court as the other players. If she lost one match 6-1, 6-1, she would take that as a learning experience.

She may have lost the next march 6-4, 6-4. While it’s still a loss, it means that Schayes was starting to close the gap. By her not worrying so much about results, in the end it helped Schayes getter better - and gain more confidence.

“Playing a DII sport is definitely more time demanding compared to playing a high school sport. It took me a while adjusting to college athletics because of this. Sometimes we will be traveling for days, other times we get back at 11:00pm from matches or even practices. You have to be very organized in order to keep up with both athletics and academics while still being able to have a “normal” life,” stated Schayes. “Freshman year, I tended to focus on the process and not the results. I knew that I would gain the experience whether I win or lose to help me move forward in the next few years as a player.”

Flash forward a couple of seasons and you can see the confidence that Schayes has gained over the past couple of seasons. She has the confidence to go out there ands compete with some of the best players at the DII level.

Her game as has gotten better - especially this season. A lot of that could be do to fact that Daemen brought in a new coach. Leading the team is longtime tennis coach Richard Greco, Jr. Greco has stops at Amherst High School where he coached both the boys and girls junior varsity - and Depew and Mt. St. Mary Academy.

Greco is still the varsity coach at Mt. St. Mary Academy. His positive attitude, and team first mentality is something that Daemen needed. It has given the girls, and the team, and fresh start.

“Coach Greco has developed a positive athlete-coach relationship among all of us. Not only has he greatly improved our game but has also helped build the team's confidence, integrity and communication,” stated Schayes. “He was able to bring the team closer together and has formed a bond with all of us. At practice he is our coach, but off the court he is a great friend and mentor to everyone on the team.”

Schayes has seen success this past fall, and again in the spring. She has never given up when it has been easy to throw in the towel. Schayes is the perfect example of someone who will get on the court and just fight until the end.

She is a competitor and the offseason there is no slowing down. Schayes makes sure she stays in shape by doing the extra things like running or working out. She also makes sure is is continuing to work on herself mentality, by surrounding herself with the right people.

“I always tell myself that each semester is a new start and I will make sure to work hard at practices in order to come back even stronger,” stated Schayes. “During the offseason, I like to condition so I am able to come back with more stamina. Whether it be running laps around my neighborhood or doing at home workouts, I like to stay in shape throughout the periods of time we have off. Regarding mental attitude, I have been surrounding myself with positive people and focusing on the good things rather than the bad, which is something I will continue to do throughout this semester.”

On the court Schayes knows what her strengths are, and she tries to play to them. She knows she won’t be able to outhit the opposing player on the time. What she does know is that she can hi the ball at a consistent pace.

That’s her strength, Schayes will hit deep and frustrate the opposing player. On the doubles side, you will see her a more relaxed player. Doubles takes away the added pressures that singles posses.

“During singles, I have found that consistency is one of my strengths to winning a point. I hit the ball at a pace that I can control and I keep the ball deep past the service line in order to out-rally my opponents,” stated Schayes. “I enjoy both singles and doubles but I feel more relaxed playing doubles. In doubles it's nice to have a teammate to talk to after a point. You are able to strategize, spread positive energy and calm each other down, whereas in singles you're all alone. It’s hard not to get down on yourself when playing singles, which is why I think having another person on the court with you makes the game even more enjoyable. Doubles has helped my singles game when it comes to volleys and net play. I definitely feel more comfortable moving to the net midpoint now.”

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