Pluskota's Perspective: Vol. 3
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Feb. 15, 2012

Throughout her final season at Tennessee, senior Natalie Pluskota will provide her account of the 2012 Lady Vol tennis team's experiences on and off the court. Here's the latest.

We have not taken the vans to National Indoors since I have been here, and I would like to say that we all regretted this decision a little bit by the end of trip, even though it was a successful one.

Kata, Jesse, Brynn, D (Deanna, athletic trainer), Sonia and I left in the first van, leaving around noon on Wednesday. Caits, Jo, Vegas (Sarah), Mike and Andrew left in a later shift due to the "freshies" having class. As expected, the van ride was long and boring, passing nothing but fields most of the way to Charlottesville, but arriving several hours before the others. We checked into the hotel, and went straight to a nice sit-down dinner. After dinner we had practice courts that night from nine until about ten, the others met us there. Everyone was bit goofy while at the courts, showing signs of tiredness, but for us this is usually when we make great memories.

As I took my warm-ups off, I remembered that I had put on extremely high socks that morning (socks in which Jo despises and always shakes her head when she sees me wearing them). As I looked through the other gear I had in my tennis bag, I realized my extra pair of socks were missing. This is a big pet peeve of mine. I always have clean socks on and change them several times a day, especially after working out in them. As I turned to Sonia she quickly laughed and looked at Jesse, asking me what color they were. I told her that they were black, and she started hysterically laughing, as she tells me that she thinks they are on the sidewalk outside the van. Come to find out, as Sonia walked in with Jesse after me, she stopped, poked at the mysterious black object on the ground (my socks) and then walked away, not knowing what it was. When all said and done, I ended up running back outside to pick them up resulting in a decent story and most importantly "fresh" socks for when we were done.

That first night we had a rather short, but good hit. We went back to the hotel excited to finally get to bed to end an extremely long day, also knowing that we would get to sleep in the next day. For most of us, it would be the first (and probably last) time in a while.

Everyone woke up Friday morning excited, knowing that we had a great opportunity later that day to play Baylor, the fifth-ranked team nationally. There were only two choices that morning for breakfast. Deanna, Jesse, Caits, and I went to Chick-fil-A. For Jesse, this was her first time. For the rest of us, we consider ourselves regulars. It was quite obvious to the employees that it was Jesse's first time, considering she tried ordering a chicken sandwich and a milkshake, at ten in the morning!! The others (Jo, B, Vegas, Kata and Mike) all went to IHOP.

Shortly after we returned from breakfast, we headed to the courts for our first hit during the previous match's doubles. National Indoors is the one tournament that is known for the hurry-up-to-wait concept. We warmed up hours before our start time. Once the match before us was done, we had fifteen minutes to warm-up and start. While waiting, some of the girls utilized the down time to get in some school work. Others, including myself, headed straight for the basketball court. Jesse knocked out another first on Friday, shooting a basketball. Let's just say I'm not letting her quit tennis.

It was great to be on the court again, I miss it. In high school, I broke multiple records at Northgate H.S. and had my jersey retired. The crazy thing is I'm probably better at basketball than I am tennis. Do you think Pat reads this blog? We shot around for a few, and then ultimately sat around, finding different ways to entertain ourselves while waiting.

Prior to the match, I got to catch up with Baylor assistant coach Alison Ojeda, a former Lady Vol All-American and great friend of mine. It is always great seeing her on the court, bringing tons of energy and positivity, as she did while she was at UT. Although, I would like to say that she looks so much better in orange, rather than green and yellow! We all have great respect for Alison, and really enjoy seeing her banner everyday hanging over us at practice.

Finally, it was time to take on the Bears. We came out strong in doubles, winning the doubles point by playing with confidence and "swag." I pulled the girls in for a quick meeting prior to singles, reminding them that we were going to win this match with our feet, and that we had to keep up the intensity, knowing that Baylor is composed of six great singles competitors. My team came out with a purpose and plan, executing exactly how we needed to. We became the first team to shut Baylor out since 2007, 4-0, and advanced to Saturday's semifinals.

As long as our day had been, it was not over. Caitlyn's Aunt and Uncle, who live in Charlottesville, invited us over for dinner after the match. It was quite the adventure getting to their house, as (SID) Andrew, could not accurately read his GPS. His expertise got us lost three different times, resulting in an attempt to drive in a "no trespassing" area, as well as D running over some flowers in an attempt to turn around. The pressure seemed to be too much for Andrew, considering he was profusely perspiring and becoming a bit nauseous. Despite the traveling on wrong dark roads and turning around several times we made it safely to the Rose's. Collectively, I would say that our team thoroughly enjoys home cooked meals. For many, it was the first in a long time.
(Editor's Note: Certain parts of the previous paragraph may or may not be fabricated.)

We all packed in one van on the way back to the hotel, as Mike went back to the tennis center to watch the last couple of matches. This van ride marks the best and most epic van ride we have had this year. Everyone was "rather" hyper and still excited about our win. I plugged in my iPod, and it was all over from there. Everyone, excluding Andrew, was loudly singing every song that played. The song selections varied from the Backstreet Boys, to the Wobble, followed by Don't Stop Believing, and ending with Laffy Taffy. As we neared the hotel, I looked back at Andrew, who was not feeling the loud music and fantastic karaoke at all, to see him writing on the foggy window "HELP!" Ha! Finally, our first day ended with ice baths and treatment. Thankfully we did not have to be up early the next morning.

Everything the next morning was the exact same as the previous morning, from breakfast choices to the warm up. The energy and excitement for the USC match was a little different than others, but in a good way. This was the first time we would get to play USC in a dual match since I have been at UT. There is nothing better than getting an opportunity to play a team that we do not get to see often, if ever. For the most part, this match was a battle, and great experience for our team, to play such a solid team up-and-down the line-up. Despite losing, we learned an immense amount about our team as well as ourselves. That night we had a really good team meeting, at the end I told the girls that our work here was not done, and that we have a great opportunity to play Northwestern the next day. That night, I left them with the statement that "We must come ready to play. Leaving here 2-1 is so much better than leaving here 1-2."

Sunday, by far, was the longest day of the trip. We were scheduled to play Northwestern that afternoon at 3:30 p.m., but ended up starting two hours later. We didn't like waiting around all day to play, especially since we got to the courts around noon. Despite the late start, we were all pumped and ready to go. Coming out to dominate in doubles again, we took the point, and were up 1-0 going into singles. We've gotten the doubles point in nine matches to start the season, setting a UT record.

Singles was a battle, but the freshmen played with such poise and determination. This win was huge for us, as the "freshies" played with a purpose, with a drive that was unbeatable. This match was extremely rewarding for them, for all of us, as it was only proof of how hard we have been working, proof of how tough we can be. Jo, Caits, and Vegas were rock solid, pulling out all three singles matches to give us the three points we needed to win. Due to the courts being in two pairs of three, Brynn, Kata, and I did not know what was going on until we finished our matches. We ran up to the top courts, where Jo was up 3-0 in the third set.

The energy instantly picked up, as we were all fully invested in every point of Jo's match. As she cruised through the set, the more and more excited we got. (Side note: love when Jo fist pumped in our direction, so intense and awesome! I'm teaching well.) Prior to Jo's match point, I turned to B and said "How awesome would it be if she hit a massive, wide serve for an ace to win the match??" Once Jo earned a match point (this was it), she walked up to the line and cranks out a massive serve for an ace! Game. Set. Match. We beat Northwestern 4-3. Time to go home with a pair of wins.

As excited and pumped up as we were when we finished, we quickly changed and loaded the vans, considering we still had a six-hour drive ahead of us and were leaving way later than expected. We got on the road, but did not make it far before making a stop at McDonald's for our celebratory/quick dinner. A combined ninety-nine dollars later, we were back on the road again. It was not long before the food hit, and people started fading fast. We stopped at a gas station a few hours in. Most of the girls loaded up on sweets, but by this time we all pretty much agreed, that we should have taken the bus. Pulling into the courts at 3:30 a.m. that next morning was rough for everyone. But despite the long uncomfortable ride back, we had an AWESOME weekend, coming home with two great wins accompanied by a great learning experience.

We have a quick turnaround, as we head up north this weekend to play Indiana and Ohio State. Fortunately, we will be traveling a little more comfortably since we are taking the bus. Hopefully, we will have the same kind of success. Can't wait to see what kind of stories I will have from our trip!

Phrase of the weekend... "SYSTEM Lady Vols!"





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