Republished from the Columbia Missourian
COLUMBIA — Columbia got a dose of spring weather Friday, and the Missouri tennis team took advantage. With temperatures peaking in the 60s, the Tigers played their first home outdoor match since 2012.
Behind the six blue re-surfaced courts sits a $2.9 million tennis complex that opened Wednesday.
The Tigers christened their new complex with a conference match against Vanderbilt, the No. 7 team in the nation. The Commodores shut out Missouri, 7-0.
Tiger seniors Rachel Stuhlmann and Cierra Gaytan-Leach kept it close in the No. 1 doubles game, but the Commodores took the Nos. 2 and 3 games to win the doubles point.
Vanderbilt then took the first set of all six singles matches, losing only 11 games among them. Gaytan-Leach and sophomore Kelli Hine pushed their matches to third sets, but Gaytan-Leach lost 10-8 in the set, which was played as a tiebreaker because Vanderbilt had already captured four of the seven points. Hine fell 6-3 to leave Missouri without a point.
Although the on-court result was a loss, coach Sasha Schmid said she is pleased with the new complex, including the mezzanine that houses fans and media.
“Honestly, I feel like this building was built as I would have imagined it,” she said.
Although the number of fans in the crowd dropped along with the temperature, the players appreciated playing in front of so many spectators.
“You could feel the fans a lot more and their presence a lot more,” Gaytan-Leach said.
Gaytan-Leach, a transfer student from the University of Texas, said Friday’s crowd surpassed those that she played in front of in Austin.
Schmid hopes the strong turnout isn’t an anomaly.
“For me, I would love to lead the SEC in the attendance race for women’s tennis,” she said. “I think we’ve got an opportunity to do that, and now that we have this new facility, we hope to continue to market it.”
Athletics director Mike Alden, members of the Missouri women’s golf team and Missouri football players Maty Mauk and Lucas Vincent were among those in attendance.
“You can definitely say we’re upgrading to the SEC, and I’m really excited for them to have the nicest facilities you can get,” Mauk said.
“It’s always great to have a lot of Mizzou fans and friends come to watch and support (you),” Gaytan-Leach said. “We’re all pretty close, all the athletes, so we like to go to each other’s games.”
Before the complex was built, players had to come dressed in their playing clothes — they did not have a locker room, and sometimes they had to lug their equipment to class, Schmid said. Now she gets to see her players more, because her office is located next to the courts instead of in the Hearnes Center. She thinks it will have a positive effect on the program for years to come.
“It’s like the starting block, I feel like, for Mizzou tennis, for growing a program,” said Hine, who was the first Tiger to win a set Friday.
“It’s really exciting to see we have a new home, a new place to make a name for ourselves.”