FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Sarah Weekley is definitely just getting started. In some regards, though she is at the end of her collegiate career, so too, is Lucia Natal.
At least at Colorado State. She’s in her first in only year with the Rams as a graduate student, and her fall season came in bits and pieces, not in chunks. Because of injuries, she played just a handful of singles matches, and it wasn’t late until she was paired with Tracy Guo as a doubles tandem.
Even so, she’s been nails for first-year coach Mai-Ly Tran and played a role in the Rams’ 7-0 sweep of Metro State at the Fort Collins Country Club on Saturday afternoon.
“I mean, I had injury problems, so I had to make sure I took care of myself, eat healthy, get treatment,” she said. “I’m the type of person that it’s never easy, so I have to make sure I do everything correct outside of the court.
Only Weekley – who didn’t arrive to the team until January – Natal has logged the fewest singles matches, but she made them count, moving to 8-1 on the season with her 6-1, 6-0 victory over Marie Cool at No. 5 singles. Her game was flowing and she played with energy.
That’s what Tran has come to expect from her. She competes in every match, and each time she seems to be raising her level of play. And when she has a partner, she’s been even better.
The tandem of Natal and Guo has been perfect on the season, now 5-0 after a 6-0 victory at the No. 3 spot. On a team with two doubles teams which qualified for the ITA Fall Nationals, one ranked No. 32 in the country, which feels like a luxury for their coach.
“They’re a strong team, and I think we have a strong doubles team all together,” Tran said. “We have options, and I have confidence in every single spot, and it’s nice to have that.”
Radka Buzkova and Matea Mihaljevic, the ranked duo, played in the No. 2 spot and won 6-2. The No. 1 team of Somer Dalla-Bona and Sarka Richterova also won 6-0. They’ve had time to build some polish, and Natal said she and Guo are catching up in that regard.
“It’s pretty cool. I’m getting really comfortable playing with Tracy,” Natal said. “I’m getting a lot of confidence, and I think she’s getting the confidence, too, that we can do whatever we want on the court, trust each other and go for it. That’s so cool. I’m so excited to play with Tracy.
“You have to know how the other person is thinking. You have to push each other when the other person is not doing the right job, and you have to have the confidence to tell each other you’re fighting for the same goal, that is winning the match. You don’t take things personal, you fight for the common goal and make each other better.”
Weekley, playing her first collegiate singles match, was just trying to make it through the day.
She felt like a bundle of nerves, even though her game at the service line suggested otherwise. She smoked aces throughout her 6-1, 6-0 win at the No. 6 spot, building off each and every point and the support of her teammates from above, all of whom seemed to claim she was their “freshy”.
“It felt great, and it was good to come out and play like this. Winning that match feels good,” Weekley said. “It’s all a blur. I was serving well, and my serve helped a lot. The team was so nice as well and encouraging.”
The odd thing is she’s been on roster longer than most of them. She signed two years ago, but the global pandemic kept her home in New Zealand to take online courses, then she stayed home the fall semester as her father passed away after battling an illness.
Just arriving on campus has felt like a whirlwind, and she admitted there were times she wondered if she’d ever really be a Ram. She said leaving her mom home in January was hard, but she knows both her and her father wanted her to go to her school and team.
It’s been an obvious adjustment.
“It was definitely a big change from New Zealand, but it’s nice to have a routine,” she said. “I had online school, and when I was free I would train. That was a routine for me, but here it’s more intense. It’s crazy here, going to class. I haven’t done that in three years, and it is so much easier to learn, as well.”
Richterova, playing at No. 2 singles, made it three wins by the same 6-1, 6-0 score for the Rams. Mihaljevic needed three sets at No. 4, prevailing 4-6, 6-1, 10-3. Dalla-Bona at No. 1 and Buzkova at No. 3 both had first-set battles before sailing to straight-set wins – Dalla-Bona 7-6, 6-0; Buzkova 7-5, 6-1.
It all added up to what they wanted from the first home match of the season, and they fed off each other, as well as a crowd which was a pleasant surprise to them.
After five years of playing, Natal knows each time out on the court is a gift. Delayed start to the season or not, she’s going to take in every moment.
“This is my last season, so I’m going to try to enjoy as much as I can. I’m just going to enjoy being on the court, and that’s going to make me a better player,” she said. “I have bad days, a lot of times, but I try to know the reason why I’m having a bad day and try to change it. This is an amazing experience, and I get to do it one more time.”
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