Abby Stevens says the pizza starts with the basics of crust, cheese and sauce. There is, undeniably, something different about pizza made by Wichita State tennis teammates Rebecca Pedrazzi and Guilia Guidetti.
“It’s magical,” Stevens said. “Our Italians are great cooks. The ingredients are the same, but they make it with love. It’s authentic Italian and it’s definitely better.”
Authentic Italian is just one of the perks of membership on the Shockers’ internationally flavored roster.
The most important one is a winning tradition that dominates the Missouri Valley Conference. The Shockers (19-3, 5-0 MVC) can win their seventh straight regular-season title with matches at Northern Iowa (14-5, 5-1) on Saturday and Drake (19-4, 5-0) on Sunday. WSU last lost an MVC regular-season match in 2008 and takes a 52-match conference win streak into the weekend.
As is usually the case, the Shockers, No. 32 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association national rankings, are overwhelming the conference with a deep lineup. Julia Schiller is the defending MVC Player of the Year. Pedrazzi, who won the MVC’s No. 1 singles title in 2013, plays No. 3 in recent matches. In October, Stevens won the No. 1 singles title at the MVC’s Individual Championships. In the spring, she often plays No. 4.
“What’s great about this team … is the family atmosphere,” Stevens said. “Everyone roots for each other and you can tell during matches. And we’re all super-competitive, in a good way, and we push each other in practices.”
The addition of freshman Gabriela Porubin, from Moldova, strengthened the lineup when she forced her way into the No. 2 spot.
“In our starting six, we’ve got four juniors, a senior and a freshman, so good experience,” coach Colin Foster said. “Adding (Porubin) into the mix and pushing everyone else down a spot has made us that much deeper. She’s got a lot of experience and was already 20 by the time she got here.”
WSU boosts its strength of schedule outside the MVC and is 4-3 against teams in the ITA rankings with wins over Arkansas and Tulsa and two over Denver, in addition to wins over Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado and Missouri. That tough schedule is toughest on Schiller, who is 18-10, 10-7 in duals, with a 1-3 record against ranked opponents.
“The best team or the weakest team, they’ve all got a good No. 1 singles player,” Foster said. “She doesn’t get any breaks, mentally or physically. That comes with the territory of No. 1 singles, so she’s embraced that.”
Schiller, a junior who went 17-6 in duals last season, relies on Foster’s reinforcement and calming sessions with her iPod and earbuds to blunt the frustrations of a defeat.
“I listen to everything, rock, pop, Austrian music,” she said. “It cools me down.”
Schiller is improving on the mental side by avoiding unforced errors and, when she does struggle, quickly regrouping on the court.
“I like to play No. 1, but it’s tough,” she said. “I try to keep the positive things out of my matches I lost and that helps me forget the negative. In the beginning, I took it personally.”
The Shockers have won six straight MVC Tournaments and should be the favorite next week in Evansville. Should they get upset, their national ranking could make them a candidate for an NCAA at-large spot. Most important, WSU has a chance to grab a No. 2 seed in the 64-team field.
WSU hasn’t won an NCAA match since 2007, when it defeated South Carolina. After six straight sweeps, third-seeded WSU fell 4-2 to second-seeded Oklahoma last season. A chance to move up to a No. 2 is enticing and means the Shockers could face a team ranked No. 33 or lower in the first round.
“Right now, we’re right on the cusp of a No. 2 vs. a No. 3,” Foster said. “If we win out, we’re probably 50-50 to stay at a No. 2. If we lose a match, we’ll definitely drop to a No. 3. That makes a difference.”