The Eastern Michigan University women’s tennis program started its season off on the right foot with a doubles win over a Harvard team that was ranked 40 nationally.
At the 18th annual William and Mary Invitational, the Eagles top doubles team of Miriam Westerink, junior from Rheden, the Netherlands, and Nino Mebuke, freshman from Tbilisi, Ga., upset the Harvard team that was ranked number one at the invitational.
Coach Ryan Ray, in his fourth year with the program, said he was happy with the result of his team’s first action this season.
“Having only two practices before going put us at a disadvantage to many schools that started in August with classes and practice,” said Ray. “So considering, I was pleased with the results.”
“We have a lot of depth and talent this year,” he said. “My expectations are to be in the conference final at the end of the year with a chance to come out winners.”
Ray said he also expects his team, which ended 8-14 overall and 2-6 in the Mid-American Conference last year, to finish the season in the top 75 programs nationally and wants to be the second best team in the state of Michigan – behind the University of Michigan.
Mebuke, the top freshman recruit, came to the Eagles’ program after being ranked 19 in the European under-16 singles division. She is No. 1 in doubles at the team’s second singles position.
“(She) really has an attitude to be the best,” Ray said of Mebuke.
The Eagles’ roster, for the fourth season in a row, is without a single United States born player.
The EMU tennis program features players from all over the world: senior Xu Chang from Beijing, China; junior Karina Ahuja from New Delhi, India; junior Georgia de’ Lisle-Tarr from Adelaide, Australia; and junior Marcela Rivero from Santa Cruz, Bolivia have all came to Ypsilanti to play for coach Ray.
“College tennis is a very global sport. If you are only recruiting in the U.S., you are greatly limiting your pool of candidates,” Ray said. “Each recruiting cycle, I’m looking for the most talented tennis player that can be successful academically, and every year, the best options have come from overseas.”
The Eagles also welcome a new assistant coach Camila Belassi to the roster this season. Coach Ray said she will aid his team a lot this season by helping with individual workouts, on-court coaching and mentoring the players.
“She brings not only a decorated playing career from the University of Colorado, but she knows how to coach, which is rare to find in someone who just graduated,” he said.
Westerink said she is sure all the girls on the team will agree with her when she says that she really likes coach Belassi.
“She knows a lot about tennis and she always gives us useful tips,” she said. “She motivates us to improve ourselves.”
Westerink said she has higher expectations for her team this year because this year’s team is better.
“I think we can be in the top three in our conference,” she said.
She added that her team’s strength is that they all get along with each other really well and they help each other on and off the court. She is not, however, saying they don’t have areas to work on.
“I think our motivation to really get the best out of ourselves could improve a little bit more,” Westerink said.
The Eagles head to East Lansing this weekend for the Spartan Invitational, beginning Friday.