TENNIS : Syracuse enters into elite status with new ranking

first_img Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Jacob: [email protected] | @Jacob_Klinger_center_img More than four years void of respect have left a mark on Syracuse co-captains Emily Harman and Alessondra Parra.The team is acutely aware of its lack of national recognition for its strong early-season performance, driving the Orange tennis program throughout this season.‘It’s not an easy feeling to know that the nation’s disrespecting you,’ Harman said.The Syracuse players (8-4, 3-1 Big East) avoid directly focusing on national rankings, preferring to keep the potential distraction in the back of their minds. With a berth in the NCAA tournament and a national championship as the team’s stated goals, the Orange knew it had to climb into the national rankings.After SU knocked off Boston College and Harvard, then No. 55 and No. 60, respectively, the team cracked the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Top 75 national rankings for the first time under head coach Luke Jensen, reaching No. 73. The next week, despite a pair of wins over Temple and Rutgers, the team was unranked once more. On Tuesday, SU was ranked No. 39 by the ITA, its highest ranking in program history.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe Orange will face West Virginia and Pittsburgh on the road Saturday and Sunday, respectively.Still, the ranking came after years of disrespect, a fact that Jensen and his team are keeping firmly in mind.‘I didn’t feel like we should have lost the ranking,’ Parra said after Sunday’s win over then-No. 25 Yale. ‘There was no reason we should have lost it, but we did, and it just felt like, you know, people once again were kind of underestimating us, even disrespecting us, and it was so good, it felt so good to come out here and prove them wrong.’The ITA rankings are both computer-generated and subject to committee votes. Yet both Jensen and his players have long been befuddled by the system.When the Orange dropped out of the rankings after the wins over Temple and Rutgers, Jensen told his players after practice that they were no longer ranked.The announcement produced mixed emotions.‘We were confused and kind of mad at the same time, just we thought we earned that spot,’ freshman Jimena Wu said. ‘… At the end of the day, it was kind of like motivation to keep on working and aim higher so it didn’t happen again.’Traditional powers are typically coastal teams in year-round tennis locales, such as UCLA and Miami (Fla.), or schools steeped in tradition, like Harvard, Duke and Yale. SU fits neither description.The climate and lack of tradition has held the program back in terms of recruiting. Jensen could not recruit elite players because they turned down SU for more prestigious programs. The struggles that followed came as no surprise. It was a vicious cycle.The same perceived prestige is in play when rankings are made, and the developing Orange program raised eyebrows in the typically reserved tennis community.‘We did a lot of things differently even before. We did push-ups on the court, we served and volleyed all the time and the energy is a level that we set that we have to be there every single time,’ Harman said. ‘A lot of these teams are kind of ho-hum here and there, but we come out as a full unit.’Yet improvements in recent years have somewhat broken the cycle of struggles that traditional outsiders deal with. Jensen said people should look no farther than this year’s freshman class and its expectations as proof of the program’s growth.‘We made a pact as freshmen to be like, ‘We’re gonna make it to the NCAAs,” Wu said.Still, the SU’s future success depends on maintaining an underdog mentality. And that mindset carries through the team from the top down.Heading into the Orange’s matchups with West Virginia and Pittsburgh, the team knows it has a target on its back. Jensen called the matches ‘their Super Bowl,’ noting that upsets over Syracuse will make the season for this weekend’s opponents.Despite the recognition the new ranking brings, Jensen is looking to keep his team hungry.‘We are not the establishment, we’re the movement. We are, you know, what is all that is really good about the game,’ Jensen said. ‘I want them to take their shot, to play with that extra sense of anger and urgency.’[email protected]last_img