SIU women’s tennis coach Audra Nothwehr is no stranger to the rebuilding process.
Before replacing the departed Rene Vidal at SIU in 2007, Nothwehr turned Lindsey Wilson College from a conference bottom feeder into National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Tournament semifinalist in just four seasons.
Nothwehr now enters her second year at the helm of the SIU women’s tennis program, looking to improve on last season’s 11-12 season.
Nothwehr said she is coming into the season with a new mindset to compliment the new incoming talent.
“Every single person out here wants to get better,” Nothwehr said. “It’s a new attitude. Everybody’s been focused on the task at hand.”
SIU returns four of its top players from last season’s squad that placed fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference, including juniors Michela Cruise and Jessica Flannery. Cruise and Flannery combined to notch 24 singles match victories and are the only Saluki returnees to post records above .500 in singles matches last season.
Cruise, however will not play during the fall season as she continues to recover from off-season ankle surgery.
The Salukis’ toughest task will be replacing its top senior, Sabine Tsala Mvilongo. Mvilongo posted a 15-8 overall record last season, including 6-2 against MVC opponents. Mvilongo teamed with Flannery last season to form SIU’s top doubles team that went 11-11.
Flannery said the team’s training and conditioning programs, which included strict running routines, helped her improve her game for her junior season.
“I can play with finesse when I have to, but I don’t like to,” Flannery said. “I would rather hit the ball hard but if I have to play finesse to win, I will.”
Flannery might be considered the best of the returning Salukis, but a pair of newcomers, one of which should be familiar to Coach Nothwehr, are expected to make an immediate impact.
Fadzai Mawisire joins SIU as a transfer student from Lindsey Wilson College where she played under Nothwehr for two seasons. Mawisire, a native of Zimbabwe, won her country’s first silver medal in women’s singles at the All-African games in 2003 and ranked 78th in the International Tennis Federation’s junior ranks when she left to begin her collegiate career.
Nothwehr said knowing Mawisire’s abilities will help identify her role with the team and help with the transition to Division I athletics.
Vishakha Sheoran’s transition is a little more complicated.
She comes to SIU as a sophomore transfer from New Delhi University where she held a career-best world ranking of No. 271 in the ITF’s Junior rankings. In India, Sheoran held the No. 8 national ranking among players under 18 and a No. 22 national ranking in the women’s division.
Nothwehr said the combination of youth and experience should help SIU improve on last season’s finish.
“It’s interesting to see new players play returners because old players think they’re better and new players are fighting for a spot,” Nothwehr said. “I definitely think this team can be better than last year.”
Luis C. Medina can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 269 or [email protected]