The Missouri-Kansas City tennis program commenced the spring tennis season with a combined trip through Europe to kick off the 2017 season. Through match play and unforgettable memories made overseas, the men's and women's tennis teams arrived back in Kansas City with a new mindset and an internal drive to perform to their highest potential. In a record-setting season, both teams made NCAA tournament appearances and proved themselves in the WAC and across the country.
For the men, they have made the NCAA team tournament four times, but this was their first year claiming the WAC title, as the program used to reside in the Summit League. For the women, 2017 marked the first year not only winning the conference, but also their first year claiming a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Head coach Kendell Hale entered the realm of UMKC tennis 23 years ago, and he embraced the task before him. Just 10 years ago, the women had lost 58 straight losses and were in somewhat of a hard place. With the efforts of Hale and the women he has recruited during his tenure, they have made incredible strides to achieve their current records and status. The 2017 team (pictured right courtesy of UMKC Athletics) propelled themselves thorough a series of injuries and other internal battles to create their best season to date.
Throughout the regular season, the women have persevered through their top player, Aliona Ladutska, undergoing Tommy Johns surgery, Raquel Argenal tearing her Lebram, and a select few other injuries and battles that ran all over the board, according to Hale.
Ladutska returned to this season and overcame her opponent during the match again New Mexico State that proved to be the difference between a WAC trophy or leaving empty handed.
"We only had four healthy girls mid-season, which was the toughest part," Hale said. "Several of our girls really stepped up their confidence, and we had such a fun and deep team this year."
Airam Castellano of the men's program earned the WAC player of the year in 2016 and lifted up his teammates to new heights this year, as they all raised their levels tremendously.
"The whole team assisted with depth, unite and support, and each position knew they could be the reason we earned points," Hale said. "Our seniors especially were so instrumental this season and were true leaders."
In the NCAA tournament, unfortunately both teams saw their season come to a close after the first round, but they know that they left every last ounce of energy on those courts. It's only a matter of time before the 2018 season rolls around and the UMKC Kangaroos will have a chance to once again work to represent the WAC in the post-season tournament.
"We went out together, and it was such a cool experience for us," Hale said. "The team promised they would win for not only me but for the team, and they truly showed their character by playing for the family and not for themselves.