Following back-to-back American Southwest Conference tournament appearances, the Howard Payne Lady Jackets tennis program is undergoing a transitional year with only four members on the roster, and a new head coach in place as of Jan. 7.
Erin Blanchard, a sophomore from Rockdale, is hopeful the Lady Jackets can add enough players in the next few weeks to make another run at the postseason.
“I would like to get more girls if it’s not too late,” Blanchard said. “If we can’t there’s no way we’re going to win any matches because of the numbers that will give us so many losses.”
Brandon Hettick, most recently the head coach of San Angelo Lake View, has taken over the reins of the program and is still learning the players’ strengths and weaknesses.
“Right now he’s just trying to get to know all of us and how we play,” Blanchard said. “We just had individual meetings the other day so he would know how we would react to things he’ll say on court. When I was on court I had the GA with me and he knows how I play, so I haven’t really gotten coached by our new coach yet. He’s still trying to get a feel because this is his first year to coach college and it’s a lot different than high school.”
Along with a smaller roster, the Lady Jackets have been plagued by less than ideal weather conditions as three of their four spring semester matches have been cancelled thus far. HPU’s most recent match was a 7-1 loss to Texas Lutheran on Feb. 9 and the Lady Jackets are slated to be back in action Friday at East Texas Baptist.
“Last year it rained but I don’t think it rained at the very start like this,” Blanchard said. “I was surprised going into the TLU match. I pretty much picked up from where I left off last year and I played a lot better than I expected. I didn’t feel prepared because we just don’t have the competition. If we want to do anything we have to play against the guys because we don’t have the numbers right now.”
With the prospect of continuing their string of ASC tournament berths bleak, Blanchard is focusing on bettering her individual game for her final two seasons at HPU.
“This is like an individual year and I’d like to get better in my singles game because in high school all I ever played was doubles,” Blanchard said. “That’s something I’ve been working on since last year.”
Looking forward, Blanchard said, “I would like us to make conference consistently. I would like to get a bigger team than just six. The coach has been talking about getting 10 girls on the team so if someone got hurt or quits we can still have some numbers.”
Blanchard was first introduced to Howard Payne when she was looking to play volleyball at the next level, but her plans changed.
“I was going to come here for volleyball, that’s how I saw the school in the first place,” she said. “Then I decided volleyball really wasn’t for me, so I contacted some tennis coaches in various places but for some reason I was just drawn here. I wanted to check out the tennis team here so I came to one of the matches and watched and felt like this was a good fit for me.”
Blanchard is majoring in Business Marketing and is currently pledging to join Chi Alpha Omega, a local sorority that emphasizes school spirit, Christian fellowship, and lasting sisterhood.
“Everyone wants to be a nurse or a doctor or this or that. I don’t know what I want to do, but marketing seems like I would I fit in there,” Blanchard said. “I plan on trying to get an internship this summer to get a feel for it and see where I stand and what I would like to do and maybe that will get me on the right track.”