Feature story written by Andrea Ledvina for CUWFalcons.com
Since 2015, Concordia Wisconsin's Women's Tennis program has taken the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference by storm. The Falcons have been able to clinch three conference regular season and tournament championships, going for their fourth titles in a row this school year. It should also be noted they have a conference winning streak of 36-consecutive matches that dates back to September 5, 2015.
Head coach, Steve Anschutz, contributes much of the success to a group of five student-athletes, of which three graduated last year, leaving the chance for the fourth conference title up to seniors Bailey Kelly and Ashley Solberg. Both have put their hearts into the team and have redefined what success means for them, as they will be graduating in May.
Back in 2015 when the team entered the season they knew Edgewood College was the team to beat after winning three titles in a row (2012, 2013, 2014) and who was their biggest rival. They never thought a few years later they would be that team with the target on their back, because of success. Kelly says that momentum off of the first win over Edgewood wanted her to keep pushing herself and the team to show how good CUW can be. Solberg never let winning become the new normal, as she went into each match with the intention that it was a new experience and the chance to prove her spot in the lineup.
As you could expect, the wave from the trio of seniors that graduated last year and with Kelly and Solberg nearing the end of their careers; is nearing its end sadly. Anschutz is grateful when this senior class takes it upon themselves to lead the freshmen on the roster and help in any way possible. Both are helping the Falcons learn how to let their opponents make the mistakes, instead of taking risky shots themselves. Anschutz has always and will continue to stress the importance of improving with each swing of the racket.
Anschutz says that the team may not have had the success they did if some things with the tennis program had not changed. He pushed to get courts on campus so the tennis program could be more respected when recruiting and he wanted the support from the school, and a few years later they got exactly that.
"Once we got the courts, there was this huge shift in recruiting talent and the success followed soon after. Bailey and Ashley were some of the most successful doubles and singles recruits I have seen in years."
For Kelly, winning this fourth title means a lot more to her than another plaque and photo in the trophy case. "It took a lot of time to balance everything. This is huge for our program, it's never happened before."
Solberg also said that this fourth conference win would bring huge attention to the team, making them known for something epic. "I would be ecstatic to leave that legacy, winning all four years."
Anschutz is grateful for the effort the players give every day. He is working to instill in all of the student-athletes the family relationship on and off the courts. The team is an extension of a family, helping during and after school, to help continue their success in both academics and athletics. The eighth-year head coach makes sure the women know that they cannot control how well they play that day, but they can always try their best. He persistently asks the team how good is your best and how is that going to match up to the opponents.
As the team continues in their fall season the pair of seniors are excited for what is to come. Both say they go into the matches with a 9-0 mentality, but play having the concentration and work of a 5-4 match.
One thing Kelly and Solberg have learned through their years at Concordia Wisconsin is how they define their success, in both academics and athletics. Kelly notes, "I feel like I have succeeded when I feel accomplished inside myself; until I know I have given my last drop. I want to learn from inside myself for next time." Solberg agreed but added, "Trusting that all they have accomplished is done through their hard work and with the help of Jesus. I trust God is going to get me through this journey and where I need to go."