As the tennis team approaches the end of the season, the goal has become to peak and gain good momentum as the conference tournament approaches. For sophomore Sophia Hummel, it has been less about peaking and more about finally finding the form she had before falling into a slump.
Hummel joined the North Texas tennis team as a freshman in 2019 and showed promise after finishing 11-16 in singles on the season. However, the pandemic shut down the spring prematurely and an injury kept her out of the fall season entirely.
“I had an injury last semester where I had to get surgery so I was out the whole semester,” Hummel said. “I didn’t play any singles tournaments last fall so this spring when we came back, I hadn’t played a match in a year.
Head coach Sujay Lama was impressed with her practice prior to the spring season, inserting her into the third spot in the line-up.
“She played at the beginning at No. 3,” Lama said. “Looking back on it, maybe that hurt her because she had some really tough opponents early on […]slowly we had to move her down because she began to lose confidence.”
After the season began, Hummel’s first 10 matches of the season saw her win only one match with many of her losses not being particularly close. Hummel admits that the combination of lopsided losses and her constant critique of herself began to weigh on her as the season went on.
“I was just thinking ‘Yeah you’re just going to play well in matches like you did,’” Hummel said. “I did not really consider the fact that I was out for a year not playing matches.”
Assistant coach Rodrigo Almeida understood this from the beginning and although he admires her work ethic, he believes that this inability to accept mistakes damaged her game.
“She is more of a perfectionist, which hurts her at times,” Almeida said. “She is certainly a hardworking girl, but she tries to be too perfect. When you go into that mode of trying to be too perfect, you can really hurt yourself.”
For Hummel, getting out of the slump was about trying to find fun on the court again. The constant negativity of letting her team down had been getting to her and in the end, she reached a point where she was not enjoying the sport anymore.
“I was, like, so stressed, that I did not have fun playing,” Hummel said. “I was always not playing well, and I was stressed and anxious to play.”
Lama has enough experience coaching that he knew Hummel would find her way eventually.
“After every loss, I either talked to her or sent her a message saying ‘Hey I really believe in you,’” Lama said. “She needed to know that her coach believes in her.”
It was not a quick process for Hummel. Her road back to playing good tennis was a slow one as she eventually learned to look for little wins even in her losses.
“There was this one match where I was down a lot in the first set,” Hummel said. “But then I turned things around, and even though I lost that set, I knew that I could do it.”
Ever since that match, the gears started slowly turning for Hummel and it all came to a head in the team’s match against the University of Texas-San Antonio. North Texas edged out a 4-3 win against the Roadrunners in a contest that saw Hummel and the team as a whole breakthrough.
“I could not have been happier for those two because Lucie at No. 1 and Sophia at No. 6 have been the hardest places for us to find points,” Lama said. “For them to be the ones to get us through the hump, that was so cathartic.”
In the end, Hummel is proud of the steps she has made to regain her form. However, with the conference championship in two weeks, she remains unsatisfied.
“I just want to keep working on gaining my confidence back and getting to my best level, so that I can really peak in conference,” Hummel said.
Featured Image: Sophomore Sophia Hummel begins her serve during tennis practice on Feb. 21, 2021. Image by Zach Del Bello