Freshmen Iowa tennis players adjust to COVID-19 pandemic

With a canceled fall season and a shift to online classes, the start of college for the Hawkeyes’ three freshmen has been anything but ordinary.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa players huddle before doubles play during a women’s tennis match between Iowa and Maryland at the HTRC on Sunday, April 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins, 6-1.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter

After a summer without tennis, a canceled fall season was the last thing the freshman class for the Iowa women’s tennis team was hoping for as they began an unprecedented start to their college careers.

But for first-year players Alexa Noel and Vipasha Mehra, their starts in the black and gold will have to wait a few more months.

“That was really devastating that they ended up canceling fall sports,” said Noel, a freshman from Summit, New Jersey. “But in the same instance now we have this time to really train and lock in with no matches going on.”

The college transition is tough for any freshman, but even more of a challenge with the busy schedule of a student-athlete. Adding obstacles such as online classes and new COVID-19 regulations for practices and workouts is certainly no help.

For Noel, a five-time ITF Junior Singles Champion and 2019 Wimbledon junior runner-up, online classes have been a mixed bag of positives and negatives.

“I think the online classes help me only because I am not going from early morning workout to class, back home, and then back to practice again,” Noel said. “That is beneficial but also online is pretty stressful with trying to figure out your schedule and everything you have due.”

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Her teammate, Vipasha Mehra, said that after three years of online schooling, she was looking forward to receiving more structured learning from a professor face-to-face while studying neuroscience.

Mehra is a three-time ITF Junior Singles Champion and a three-time doubles champion from Prune, India. She has a 47-35 ITF junior singles record and a 41-30 doubles record to go along with a career-high No. 134 ITF junior ranking.

“This is definitely not how I expected my freshman year to be,” Mehra said. “The adjustment has not been too bad, and the main part for me is just being by myself for the first time and just trying to manage my own time.”

With the pandemic shutting down tennis across the globe for most of the spring and summer months, it has been a long time since the players were on the court.

Mehra was the only Indian female to compete at the Australian Open juniors back in January, which was also her last formal match.

Noel has not played competitively since she was on the court in Las Vegas in February.

“It is a way to get stronger because right now we don’t know what’s happening, so I feel like this is a time where we can develop ourselves without having the pressure of competing,” Mehra said. “It makes a huge difference when you can push yourself without having to worry about anything else.”

The women’s tennis team is a tight-knit group, and while the players must keep their inner circles small in order to avoid spreading the virus, both freshmen said that they have been fortunate to look to their teammates for camaraderie on and off the court.

The Hawkeyes finished 6-6 overall with a 1-0 record in conference last spring before the season was cut short. The team is looking to make a big improvement this upcoming season and is very excited about what these freshmen can do to help them succeed.

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