Positivity has filled the minds of the Bradley tennis team.
Head coach Matt Tyler said the team is riding the positive momentum after a successful weekend at the Northern Illinois University Huskie Invite.
The Braves won all four singles brackets, highlighted by freshmen Nikki Perlwitz winning the White Bracket final in her collegiate debut. Sophomore Sandra Maletin also won the Red Bracket in a dominating 6-1, 6-4 finale.
In the final round of the doubles competition, the Bradley duo of freshmen Bozana Lojpur and senior Malini Wijesinghe faced off against the other Bradley duo of junior Natalia Barbery and Maletin. Maletin and Barbery captured the Red Doubles crown in an 8-0 win.
In the last few seasons, Tyler has emphasized the importance of the doubles competition and this weekend met his expectations for the team.
“Doubles for us is always super important,” Tyler said. “For us to put two teams in the final of the top-flight against three pretty good teams; I think that’s a huge step forward for us and if we can rely on our double-teams consistently winning doubles points in the spring then that will make life easier for everyone.”
The main goal for Tyler and the team is to focus on winning the MVC Team Championships in the spring. Last year’s tournament ended early with a 0-4 loss against Missouri State. Injuries also plagued the team, a drawback that Tyler wanted to emphasize avoiding through working out the players in a smarter way.
“We have increased our conditioning regiment so I feel like people are feeling the benefits of all of that,” Tyler said. “That’s something we’re going to increase and continuing going into the fall so hopefully we’re circumventing injuries.”
One injury already set back sophomore Victoria Gonzalez, but Tyler said she would be aiming to play at the upcoming Bradley Invitational on Sept. 21. Among the sophomores, Tyler noted that Sandra Maletin improved for a successful opening weekend.
“Sandra has brought her A-game this year,” Tyler said. “The first couple of tournaments last year she struggled a little bit but really came back playing well, healthy and training hard all summer.”
On the court, the team is seeing early success, but Tyler’s philosophy lies off the court. He said he focuses on creating an environment within the team that is “conducive to personal growth as well as athletic performance.”
Senior Malini Wijesinghe, has shown that it’s possible to be a college athlete and spend significant time impacting the student body and the Peoria community.
“Malini is an outstanding leader, an outstanding player and an outstanding person,” Tyler said.
This past summer, Wijesinghe won the Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship and Leadership Award as the Women’s Division 1 tennis recipient. The award applauds collegiate athletes who exhibit leadership and volunteer qualities in their community and achieve academic success.
The ceremony took place in August at the West Side Tennis Club in Queens, New York. This was the site that Arthur Ashe, the award namesake, won the U.S. Open in 1968. Wijesinghe said she was not knowledgeable of Ashe’s life and decided to read about him, including several books and his diary.
“He was a man who had a lot of perspective in the game,” Wijesinghe said. “He had a lot of respect for all of his opponents. He respected the ebbs and flows of the game. Some people get really frustrated when they’re not playing their best or when other people are doing great and they’re not. He just had a really good head on his shoulders for the game and understood the importance of balance.”
Wijesinghe said Ashe often taught children how to play tennis, something Wijesinghe volunteers her time doing at Whittier Primary School, located near Bradley’s tennis courts.
A certain quote stood out to Wijesinghe that encapsulated Ashe’s philosophy. Ashe once said, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” Wijesinghe said this quote spoke volumes about the award, adding that being selfless is euphoric in itself.
“The world would be a bad place if we didn’t think about other people and that’s an obvious fact,” Wijesinghe said. ‘But you also feel so much better about who you are and I think you’ll lead a more fulfilling life if you really understand that you get more by being a positive force on other people.”
Following the ceremony, Wijesinghe volunteered at the U.S. Open where she witnessed professional tennis players compete such as Serena and Venus Williams.
“That was really cool because I had never been to a professional tournament. You watch the players go through the same frustrations as you do. They make all the same mistakes and they get frustrated by all the same stuff and it’s just a higher level.”
Considering this will be Wijesinghe’s last year on the team, she expressed sadness for when she inevitably moves on.
“I will be so bummed to be done with tennis because this is the most competitive I will be for the rest of my life,” Wijesinghe said. “Just the atmosphere playing a team match and getting all jazzed up to win together. I’ll play leagues when I’m older, but I’ll never feel [the energy to win] again and I’m very competitive and I love to do that with my teammates.”