Despite the facts that the tournament was the first under a new head coach and the roster featured only six players, the Bowdoin women’s tennis team started strong last weekend, with all three doubles teams placing in the top four at the Wallach Doubles Invitational at Bates. With all starters returning from last spring and a new but experienced coach at the helm, this early success has set the stage for an exciting fall season.
Following the resignation of longtime head coach Paul “Hobie” Holbach in August, Ben Lamanna was announced as his replacement. Lamanna formerly coached the men’s and women’s teams at Brandeis University, where he built both programs into true national contenders.
“The [Brandeis] program was in great spirits, it was in a great spot and I left at the height of the program,” said Lamanna. “And that goes to show you how highly I think of the Bowdoin College reputation and the way that the student athletes are supported [here].”
As with any coaching change, the adjustment to a new school and new team culture has taken time. Notably, Lamanna arrived on campus late in the summer and annual recruiting cycle, which meant he and the team had little time to get to know each other before their first match. Nevertheless, players have already noticed the impact a new coaching style has had.
“Coach Lamanna is more focused on building up relationships … between players and more [focused] on the team as a whole rather than on each person. That’s been different, and I think it showed last weekend that it’s effective,” said Sasa Jovanovic ’20, who was one of the tournament’s co-champions.
If last week’s performance is any indication of what fans should expect going forward, the team—small as it is—is one to watch for the remainder of the year. Out of a 23-team field, all three doubles teams that the Polar Bears fielded placed in the top four, with Jovanovic and Fleming Landau ’22 taking the top spot.
“Everyone knew we were the highest-ranked team going into the tournament. It doesn’t always show … but it did,” said Lamanna. “We got to see some grit, we got to see some fight [and] some clutch shots in some big moments. Those things were fun to see.”
Because all three Bowdoin teams advanced to the final four, two Polar Bear teams met in the semifinal, where Jovanovic and Landau took an 8-2 victory over teammates Kennedi Carter ’23 and Tasha Christ ’20.
“We have a team culture of you respect your opponent by playing your hardest,” said Jovanovic. “We … took that approach for playing our teammates, too. Obviously, I very much respect Tasha and Kennedi and all the effort they’ve been putting in so far, so we’re going to go out there and play our hardest and they’ll play their hardest and whatever happens is for the team.”
With a roster of only six players this fall, the team is about as small as it has ever been. However, this intimacy does come with its benefits.
“[I’ve] never had this small of a team, [but] I kind of like it. We can really improve at a greater rate than other teams,” said Lamanna. “It’s great because everybody knows that they’re going to be playing or they’re one injury away from playing. There’s not a lot of room for error.”
Lamanna is clear about his objectives for the team: “We can win a national title here.” And while that remains the greater goal, the fall season is still, first and foremost, the time to adjust to a new system and lay the groundwork for the more competitive spring season.
“The way that we approach the fall is seeing it as a practice run, in the sense that we want to be building up skills now that would be most effective for the spring,” explained Jovanovic. “There are [not] any results-oriented expectations attached to the fall besides just getting better at these skills we’ve been working on in practice, and of course going out there and battling like we always try to do.”
The team will continue along that learning curve this weekend at the ITA New England Regional Championship at Middlebury. Just a few weeks into the fall season, the Polar Bears have months to go before the spring season starts, but these promising early results make them a team to watch.