Chowan tennis is improving

Published 2:11 pm Friday, April 22, 2011

MURFREESBORO – The Chowan University men’s and women’s tennis teams may have had an early exit from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) tournament, but the future for both teams is looking bright.

Perhaps second-year Hawks net coach Chris Stambaugh said it best: “Our confidence is currency and we are gaining interest.”.

One of the highlights of the 2011 season was freshman women’s sensation Inesa Asatryan named CIAA Player of the Year after going a perfect 18-0 in conference play in the regular season.

The Russian native won 24 straight singles matches including 10 matches this season where her opponents did not win a single game, and only seven opponents ever won more than two games against her.

It helped the Chowan women go from 9-12 in 2010 to 18-11 this season. And the success was catching as the men went from 1-13 and 0-9 in the CIAA to 10-15 in 2011 and 8-5 in the CIAA.

That shows that Stambaugh’s currency is nice crisp paper money and that he’s not playing with ‘loose change’.

“When I came in,” said the West Virginia native, “one of the things that I saw missing was passion; a real desire to improve, to win, it just wasn’t there.

“Of course everybody wants to win,” he added, “but the belief that you could win was absent.”

Stambaugh began by bringing in new people and, as he did, the mix allowed the lesser players in the program to get better.

“The new players enjoyed it,” he said, “because they were part of something that was bigger than themselves. It helped create the atmosphere of a common goal: we were growing together and improving together.

“It all started to click,” he says with a sly smile.

Stambaugh is quick to give all the credit to his players buying into what he and the team were trying to accomplish.

“I’m not sure if you looked at us on paper,” he said, “you would have thought this would happen. On the women’s side we added just one player (Asatryan) and two new one’s on the men’s side.”

“Actually,” he corrected, “just one new player as our number-one player, Adam Moneypenny, returned after taking time away from the program.”

In the recently concluded CIAA tennis tournament in Petersburg, Virginia, Chowan fell to Johnson C. Smith, 5-4, but the Hawks-Golden Bulls match was the only quarterfinal match to see all nine points played out and the only match that did not result in a sweep.

The match was deadlocked 4-4 tie with only the number-one singles play remaining before Smith’s Robert Butts bested Moneypenny, 6-4, 6-3, to advance JCSU to the semi-finals.

“We did our best peaking at the end of the season,” said Stambaugh, “which was good.”

Asatryan, meanwhile, took a circuitous route to Murfreesboro from her hometown of Yaroslavl, Russia – a town 155 miles northeast of Moscow.

“I started in elementary school,” she says in her clipped Russian accent.  “In Moscow, all players are good; but often the choice is either to study or to play tennis.  In the U.S. you can do both.

“You can get a scholarship to play tennis or you can play in professional tournaments,” she added, “but those tournaments cost a lot of money.”

Asatryan chose Chowan over Alabama State and has been pleased with her decision. She is currently a marketing major who lists former number-one in the world, Roger Federer, as her tennis hero.

“I also try to have an aggressive playing style,” she says. “Hit the ball hard and move your opponent around the court.

“You try to play easy,” she says with a smile, “but give your opponent a hard time.”

Inesa’s mother was actually her first tennis coach back in her homeland.  With her teammates she tries to inspire them, at times keep them calm, and foster a spirit of working together.

“We enjoy each other more,” said junior Jennifer Mitchell, a Murfreesboro native and former player at nearby Ridgecroft School.  “We’ve all tried to work harder.”

Seniors Melinda Williams and Tara Lunney agree.

“Our doubles team has stepped up more because coach really pushes us,” said Williams.

“Two years ago I would have said a CIAA championship was a long way off,” added Lunney, “now I think it’s tough, but not impossible.”

And that you can take to the bank.