In college tennis, it's easy to point to disparities in talent, budget, or equipment as reasons why one team has an advantage over another. Court surfaces, facilities, and playing conditions are somewhat forgotten. But at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, up north where it doesn't heat up until mid-April, weather is never far from mind.
The NJIT men and women's programs posted a combined record of 2-14 in away matches last season. Head coach Ira Miller knows this can't happen again, so he made some schedule changes for the Highlanders' second season in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
"I made the adjustments for this year," Miller said. "We are traveling south earlier for both teams to play Presbyterian in a match before playing conference opponent USC Upstate, and we are going to Florida for spring break this year to play schools from Florida who are already at the top of their game."
On their spring road trip last year, the Highlanders visited schools in the Northeast — schools who also play inside until April. This year's schedule features teams such as Rollins, FAU, Tampa, and Florida Tech.
South. Warmth. Sunshine.
The Highlanders will also play their first three conference matches at home this season, before they head to the Carolinas.
Miller said the men's team is far better at home than they are away, and their record definitely reflects that. They finished 9-8 at home last season, the best record in the region, with a win over Buffalo last February. They lost all their outdoor matches in 2015-16, but didn't lose to an unranked team in their region after finishing in the No. 8 slot. So there's only room to move forward from there and build upon their success indoors.
The Highlanders will play five home matches and eight away matches this season, with teams such as Harvard and Princeton booked to make them even more competitive in the region. For the men, it may be a bit of a rebuilding season, as they return three starters and lose their number one singles player. Two tough recruits join the squad, one coming in the fall and one in the spring. Only time will tell whether their mix of experience and fresh players will mesh.
The Lady Highlanders will be much-improved as well, with every payer returning, a strong transfer coming on board, and a possible new spring recruit in the works. Miller believes this lineup and experience will put the women in contention for a conference championship. They have an equal number of their 18 total matches scheduled home and away, which will be beneficial.
Texas-Rio Grande Valley transfer student Natacha Minc, who will join the Highlanders this season (Courtesy of NJIT Athletics)
Miller hopes the a newly-designed schedule, a better vision for the season, and experience returning to both programs will help Highlanders dominate the Atlantic Sun Conference. The first tournament for the women is slated for the weekend of September 16 at the Navy Invitational, and at the Princeton Ivy Plus/Army Shootout at Princeton for the men.