Bahamian collegiate tennis player Sydney Clarke just wrapped up what was an unusual regular season for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Blazers due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, and now she has her eyes set on the 2021 Conference-USA (C-USA) Tennis Championships in NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I tennis. That tournament is set for April 22-25 at the Waranch Tennis Complex in Denton, Texas, on the campus of the North Texas University Mean Green team.
Clarke will head into the championships on a five-match winning streak in singles. That is definitely a confidence booster for the 19-year-old freshman player.
“I am very confident heading into the conference championships. We played so many matches and I feel as though since we started in January to now, all the things that I have been working on throughout the semester, I feel as though I have gotten much better and I will be prepared,” Clarke said.
The Blazers sport a 13-6 overall win/loss record and went 3-1 in C-USA play over the regular season. They ended the season as winners of their last five dual events. Clarke said Head Coach Mark Tija is ensuring that the team stays focused.
“Right now, our coach is just keeping us focused and sharp. He is telling us not to let our guard down because we are so close. Right now we are just keeping the intensity up. I feel like if we carry that into conference we would do really well,” Clarke stated.
The Bahamian was fortunate to not lose two straight singles matches throughout the regular season. She attributes this to previewing and reviewing her games.
“After a loss I would always think about my matches and review the video with my coach,” Clarke said. “Also, I made a plan when I am on my own to look at where I fell down and what I did wrong. At the practices before my next match, I would focus on getting better at the things I weren’t good at the previous match and make sure for the next time it was working. I didn’t had any problems bettering myself.”
She said she really enjoyed playing in her first season and was excited to be able to be in a competitive environment despite the circumstances of playing during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is grateful for having an opportunity to do what she said she loves best – playing tennis.
The life of a student-athlete can be demanding and tough to juggle. However for Clarke, she said she was able to juggle athletics and academics by planning ahead.
“Although there was a lot going on this semester, I was able to manage tennis and school. Sometimes, it was really tiring but it did not affect my play and my academics were not affected. I always worked ahead when I knew that I needed to and that was what made it much easier,” Clarke stated.
Clarke said she has seen growth in her game since going off to school in August and playing regularly. She added that she is now understanding the concept more.
“This season, my game has improved tremendously from when I first came in August. I feel as though that I am now understanding the concept and understanding more of myself and my game. I now maximize my strengths more,” Clarke said. “I improved on the mental side of the game. Whenever my matches got tough, I had to think and find a way to solve the problem at hand. That allowed me to come back after a loss or fight my way out of a tough situation.”
Clarke said she was happy that her school was able to take the necessary measures to ensure that they had a season in the face of COVID-19. She said the toughest part was the cancellation of games.
Other schools in their conference include Middle Tennessee State University, Old Dominion University, the University of Texas El Paso, Western Kentucky University (WKU) and Florida International University (FIU).