Urbana tennis team ready to face all challengers this fall

Urbana senior Lorelei Yau practices her backhand groundstroke during the Tigers' second practice of the season. The program looks to improve on last year's success and has its sights set on sending several players to state this fall.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

URBANA - The Urbana High School girls' tennis team hopes to become the most-improved program in the Big 12 Conference this fall. The Tigers will take the first step toward that goal next Saturday at the multi-team Charger Invite.

"We are striving to be the most-improved team from day one until the end of the season," said Tigers' head coach Parker Sands on Tuesday during the team's second day of practice. Rain on Monday forced his first practice indoors to kick off his fifth season at the helm of the program. "We have already started practicing and giving our best effort every day. We will easily be the most-improved team in the conference."

Alisa Tangmunarunkit, UHS' top singles player, returns to the team as captain this fall. As a junior last fall, she went 2-1 at the Centennial sectional tournament in the singles division.

After plowing by Centennial's Yehyun Nam in straight sets, 6-2, 7-6, for her first victory, Tangmunarunkit outlasted Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley's Katie Steidinger in thrilling three-set affair, 6 - 3, 5 - 7, 6 - 2, for another win. Her singles season came to a close via a two-set shutout loss to 5th-seed CiCi Brown from Danville.

Seniors Eisla Madigan, Luna Morales, and Lorelei Yau also return to the lineup. All three were sectional finalist in 2022.

Lurking underneath their seemingly laid back disposition and genuine smiles is a intense competitive drive to reckoned with.

Luna Morales and Lorelei Yau run during tennis practice

Lorelei Yau (left) and fellow senior Luna Morales jog side-by-side in a friendly race during the Tigers' conditioning practice on Tuesday at Blair Park.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Morales doesn't hide her aggressive play on the court. When she plays, the need to win runs courses through her veins.

"I feel like that is one of my strenghts," she said. "I am a very offensive player. I like playing at the net. I like serving. I typically push people to be more aggressive like me."

Madigan, the squad's only four-year veteran, says her service game is one of her strenths.

"When it's good, it is real good. When it is good, it is an ace."

Groundstrokes are her other weapon, and like all superheroes, she has an Achilles' heel.

"I have pretty powerful strokes," she said confidently. "But, if I can't make it to a ball, I can't make it to the ball. I try. It is just like, if there's a ball on the other side of the court, I'm not making it all the way over there."

Top left: Urbana head coach Parker Sands leads the team in a conditioning exercise with one lap around Blair Park. Top right: Grace Coady works on fine-tuning her backhand shot during the three-hour practice on Tuesday. Click on thumbnails to view a larger photo.

Photos: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Bottom left:Tigers' senior Nourseen Ismail hits the ball back over the net during a practice drill. Bottom center: Head coach Parker Sands goes over the morning practice plan with players. With the players' help, the fifth-year head coach is building new culture for the program. Bottom right: Zoe Johnson puts in the extra effort to run forward and hit a low ball during an intense drill session. Sands expects Johnson, also a senior, to have a breakout season this fall.

Yau, starting her second year of competitive tennis, switched from volleyball to be with her friends on the team. The most challenging ingredient of the sport for her is the psychological approach a player needs to have to be successful.

"Tennis is really mental, and I get in my head a lot." "But that is something that I'm working on. You always have to work on that."

The Tigers open their duo match season hosting St. Joseph-Ogden on Tuesday, August 22, at Blair Park. The Spartans currently boast a roster of 29 players.

After a road match in Paris, UHS will enjoy three back-to-back contest at home, starting with a rematch with SJO on August 29. A day later, Sands' squad takes on twin city rival Centennial. After the Labor Day weekend, Urbana will welcome another twin city school, St. Thomas More.

"We have tough opponents up and down the line with great opponents," Sands said, going through the long list of programs that have dominated the conference. "Every team in the conference is going to give us a challenge. We've got to really strive to improve and come into every match with the mindset that we're here to play.

"We're going to be tested every single week."