NORMAN, Okla.—The No. 18 Oklahoma women’s tennis team heads to Kansas for two road matches this weekend. OU faces No. 61 Kansas State Friday, March 28, at 1 p.m., in Manhattan and No. 47 Kansas Sunday, March 30, at noon in Lawrence.
The Sooners (11-3, 1-1) fell just one spot in the rankings after splitting their conference openers. The Sooners fell 5-2 to Texas Tech before bouncing back to top TCU 5-2 last weekend.
Kansas State (7-6, 2-0) will enter Friday’s matchup coming off a 4-3 loss to UC Santa Barbara. Kansas (11-4, 2-0) is riding a one-match win streak after upending Central Florida, 4-3.
Q & A with Whitney Ritchie and Mia Lancaster
Q: At this point last year, y'all were 10-6, 9-9 the year before that. This year, you're 11-3. What do you think has changed in the past couple of years?
Whitney Ritchie: I think the hard work we have put in over the past year is starting to pay off. Last year, one of our main goals was to stay disciplined throughout the year and to not lose sight of our goals, and it is clear that this team is doing just that.
Mia Lancaster: We are working harder and smarter than we ever have before. And we are showing a level of commitment to the team that hasn’t been present in the past.
Q: The Big 12 is going to be pretty tough with 8 of 10 teams ranked right now. What do you think the team needs to work on this season to go out and win as many matches as possible?
ML: It is important that we treat each match the same. We need to compete our hardest and be tougher than every team we play, whether they are ahead of us in the rankings or way below us.
WR: I think we need to keep doing what we have been doing and just stay tough. It's a long season and this is the last stretch of it. Teams get tired and it is easy to make excuses, so it is our responsibility to not slip into that mind set and stay disciplined.
Q: You've only dropped two doubles points as a team this season, what advantage do you think you guys have had because of that?
ML: It is always a huge advantage when you win the doubles point because it takes off a little bit of pressure in the singles. It also gives you more confidence going into the singles knowing that your team is up 1-0 and you only need 3 of the 6 singles to win.
WR: Obviously, going into singles up 1-0 is always a little confident booster. It takes the pressure off a little bit, but against Tulsa we dropped the doubles point but were still able to win four singles matches to win the match. So, it helps but I know we're always going to have a shot even if we do lose the doubles point.
Q: You've only lost two road matches so far. How do you feel about playing two games on the road this weekend?
ML: I feel just as confident on the road as I do playing at home. I believe this team is capable of playing in all conditions, we have proved this several times this year.
WR: Really good. One thing we have struggled with in the past is playing well when we're not at home. But this year we have shown time and time again that we can play well when we're on the road, so I see no reason to why that would change this weekend.
Q: Do you think you have a shot at winning the Big 12 title this year?
ML: Yes I really do. We have a tough and talented group of girls this year and we have the chance to do something really special.
WR: Absolutely. It's going to be tough, but we've been saying all year how special this team is. I have no doubt that this team is one of the best, if not the best in the Big 12. It's just up to us to go out and prove it.
Q: What improvements have you seen from the team over the past few years?
WR: Embracing the moment and doing the little things right. In the past we have lost some close matches, whether it was due to nerves or lack of experience or confidence. This year has been sort of the opposite. I feel like when the match is close, our girls are stepping up and trusting in the work that we have put in over the last 8 months.
Q: The team has been ranked in the Top 20 for the past few weeks, does that encourage you guys to play better so you stay ranked higher or do you try not to think about it.
ML: It definitely motivates us each week to continue working hard in practices and workouts each week. This is the part of the season where this hard work is crucial. It is going to make all the difference at the end of April in the Big 12 tournament and in May at regionals.
WR: It is obviously very exciting to be ranked in the Top 20, but at the end of the day rankings don't matter. We try not to place too much emphasis on it, but it was kind of cool when we made school history.