Republished from the Columbia Missourian
COLUMBIA — The racket was on the court, and the rain started to fall.
Fitz and the Tantrums’ “Out of My League” began to play over the speakers at the Mizzou Tennis Complex. Missouri was out of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The racket had been thrown at the ground in dismay by Rachel Stuhlmann as her final collegiate match came to a close. Her 6-3, 6-2 loss at the No. 3 singles spot clinched a 4-0 loss to No. 8 Texas A&M. The defeat ended the season for the Tigers, which went 8-20 in the regular season.
“I just can’t believe it’s over,” Stuhlmann said. “But I just tried to stay focused on the points I was playing and just have fun with it. And that’s what I did.”
Cierra Gaytan-Leach, Missouri’s only other senior, had a chance to defeat Cristina Stancu, who was ranked 11th nationally. Their match was in the third set but did not end before the Aggies tallied four points. She finished at 6-3, 4-6, 2-1.
“I really wanted to finish that badly,” she said. “But I had my opportunities in the second set and I didn’t close and let her get in my head a little bit.”
The two Tiger seniors played on the courts next to each other. Stuhlmann tried to hold off defeat in order to let Gaytan-Leach finish.
“You always wanna fight for the teammate next to you, especially when they’re in a battle,” Stuhlmann said. “You wanna stay out, you kind of wanna stall, you wanna have longer points, just so they can get a win on the board.”
Madison Rhyner was the only other Missouri player to win a singles set. After taking the first set 6-3, her opponent broke serve in the second set, which stopped unfinished at 2-3.
The Tigers reached the Texas A&M matchup after defeating No. 55 Arkansas in the first round of the SEC tournament, which is hosted at the Mizzou Tennis Complex this year. It was Missouri’s second conference win of the season.
The Tigers lost two of their top four players coming into the year. Elisha Gabb missed the season because of a back injury and Alex Clark did not play until April after the death of her mother.
“It’s one of those seasons you couldn’t ever think of or script,” coach Sasha Schmid said. “We had a lot of crazy things. We had a lot of unknowns and a lot of unfortunate circumstances, but (it’s) really a good group of girls, and I’m very proud that they never imploded.”
The Tigers struggled in doubles and lost the point 6-6, 3-8, 1-8.
“We probably were a little bit careful, and I just told them there’s no room to be careful,” Schmid said. “We’re only gonna win this match if we go out and fight really hard.”
The team came out stronger in singles play, and at one point led on all six scoreboards.
“(You) couldn’t have asked for a better start to our singles matches,” Stuhlmann said, “but Texas A&M, they’re such a solid team. That’s why they’re No. 8 in the nation. It’s because they know how to fight back.”
Gaytan-Leach is considering going to the pro circuit. Stuhlmann has another year at MU and plans to give tennis lessons.
“It’s gonna be odd not being on the tennis team, but I know I’ll be around here,” she said.
The season ended in tears, but the Tigers finished with some momentum and won three of their final five games after starting 6-19.
“I think it’s a great end to the year,” Stuhlmann said. “Obviously, we wanted to make it a little bit further in the SEC tournament, but we got a real tough draw. I think, moving forward, it’s looking very, very good for Mizzou tennis.”