The Otterbein Women’s tennis team has been trending up under head coach Tyler Stephen.
Stephen, an Otterbein alum, took over the helm of the men’s team in 2015, and then the women’s in 2016 succeeding the Otterbein tennis coaching couple Mark and Pat Anderson. Anderson led the Cardinal women to their last Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) title in 2014.
Since Stephen took over at Otterbein, the Cardinal women have ranked 4th, 3rd, and 2nd in the OAC regular season as well as qualifying for the in the OAC tournament each season.
The women’s tennis program over the last ten years have not lost a single court to conference foes Capital or Muskingum. Although Stephen has a special appreciation for the Capital rivalry and takes it very seriously, the student athletes don’t always buy into the concept of a “rivalry.” This was a team that approached every game with the same mentality: play hard for each other.
Selflessness seemed to drive the improvement of the three seniors on Otterbein’s 2019-2020 roster. The trio of Sydney Bergman, Makayla Sutter and Mariella Briones combined for 117 singles wins and accounted for 79 doubles wins over the course of their illustrious careers. It’s especially impressive considering that Bergman was not here for her freshman season. She transferred in from Baldwin Wallace as a sophomore, joining her best friend and high school teammate Sutter. These three helped lead the Cardinals to a 17-4 record in the 2018-19 season that included huge regular season wins over fellow conference powerhouses Ohio Northern and Mount Union. Coach Stephen cited both of these wins as huge turning points for the program.
Sutter recalled the Ohio Northern win as the favorite of her career. “They had always been tough and we struggled to beat them in the past. [Bergman] and I had a lights out doubles and I won a singles match that no one thought I could win," Sutter recalled. "Leaving the court at the fourth win, I had complete confidence in [Briones] to finish the job.”
Briones grabbed the fifth win and the team earned a huge upset over Ohio Northern University at home.
Bergman recalled the Mount Union match as her favorite on-court memory from her career: “It was our first conference match of the season and we weren’t playing our best tennis. We started down 1-2 after doubles and fought hard through our singles matches," Bergman said. "It was 4-3 with Kristen Zink and I as the last players on the court. Kristen had just joined the team, so I was still getting to know her. I loved the team mentality she had already developed. We both kept looking at each other saying, ‘you got it.’”
The second-seeded Cardinals would not be able to take out Ohio Northern a second time in the OAC Tournament, but momentum was certainly building for the program going into the 2019-20 season as they would return their entire roster.
There was some buzz that this would be the season that the Otterbein women returned to OAC glory, as they boasted a 10-1 record before having the remainder of their season canceled due to COVID-19. On their annual spring break road trip, the Cardinals traveled to Oregon for the first week of March. The Cardinal women picked up five wins on the road trip without a loss, including a 6-3 win over a strong George Fox team.
Of the win said Coach Stephen, “It was a match I know we wouldn’t have won last year. I was very impressed with the composure they showed. We won a lot of battles out there.”