TENNIS : Rodgers establishing herself in rotation as freshman for Syracuse
All eyes anxiously watched Amanda Rodgers as the freshman stepped up to the serving line.
Tied three games apiece with then-No. 60 Harvard, Syracuse’s hope rested in Rodgers’ powerful left arm. After dropping a crushing second set 7-6, Rodgers kept her composure, battling back to capture a decisive third-set victory in dramatic fashion.
Her gutsy play gave SU its second straight win against a ranked opponent and confirmed head coach Luke Jensen’s faith in his freshman stud.
‘It’s a moment that you dream about as a competitor, when the match is on your racket and everybody is watching,’ Jensen said. ‘She served for the match in that second set and lost it. Instead of getting discouraged, she got more determined. And there’s Rodgers right there. She just never gives up.’
The Orange (7-3, 3-1 Big East) will need Rodgers to continue establishing her role as a prime contributor when it hosts No. 59 William and Mary on Friday at 6 p.m. and No. 25 Yale on Sunday at 9 a.m. at Drumlins Tennis Center. Rodgers’ early season success in the fifth and sixth singles match has been a pleasant surprise for SU, and the lethal lefty has plenty of room for growth as she continues to play under a talented core of upperclassmen.
Rodgers began raising eyebrows when she gutted out a win in straight sets during her first match against a ranked USF squad. Since then, Rodgers has been near flawless for SU in the singles competition, compiling a 9-1 record, tied with senior Emily Harman for best mark on the team.
In his six years of coaching at SU, Jensen said he has never seen a freshman player explode out of the gates as quickly as Rodgers, especially against quality competition.
Like Harman, Rodgers is a ‘quiet assassin’ on the court and lets her game do the talking.
And Jensen said Rodgers’ crafty tennis style mixed with her ability to compete in pressure situations have resulted in her unprecedented rise.
‘Any time there is a pressure situation I find that she plays even better,’ Jensen said. ‘That’s always a crapshoot in a recruiting scenario. You think you’ve recruited the right type of personality, but you just never know until you put them under pressure situations.’
The 5-foot-11 Rodgers has a height advantage on most players. But she isn’t solely a power player. She also has a great understanding of how a left-handed tennis player should hit the ball.
Rodgers’ left arm is one of her most lethal weapons because it brings diversity into her shot arsenal.
As a lefty, Rodgers is able to create side spin that can deceive the opposing player once the ball crosses the net. By implementing these crafty shots, Rodgers cuts the court up into angles, forcing her exhausted opponent to sprint instead of playing a power game.
‘A lot of lefties hit the ball flat, but I hit the ball with spin, and many girls don’t like that,’ Rodgers said. ‘They’re used to hitting flat and having players hit flat at them. So when I hit with spin, the players get nervous and don’t really know what to do.’
Rodgers has steamrolled her competition while anchoring the Orange’s No. 6 singles position. But her rapid development is also a tribute to Harman, who has been putting on a clinic of her own in No. 1 singles.
The friendship between Rodgers and Harman stretches back about eight years before SU, when they worked out together at various tennis clinics. Harman has been an influential role model for Rodgers and constantly looks for things that would help the freshman become more well rounded.
‘I do anything I can when I see it,’ Harman said. ‘She has made huge contributions for the team since day one. Her play against Harvard got us the win, and sometimes that’s something you can’t train in a freshman.’
Rodgers inspirational play of late has been a boost of confidence for the whole team during the Orange’s current five-match winning streak. Although Jensen said he doesn’t expect to fiddle with Rodgers’ position in the singles competition before this weekend, he knows the multidimensional freshman won’t go under the radar for long.
‘Rodgers isn’t going to be a secret anymore,’ Jensen said. ‘The first thing you see when Syracuse walks in the door is this 6-foot lefty, and that’s intimidating.’
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