TAMPA, FL – Usually when a person learns something the hard way, it’s bad news.
In North Carolina State tennis player Elisha Hande’s case, it’s the opposite – she learned how to win.
The 5’10” sophomore member of the NC “Wolfpack” led her team to a decisive team win over South Florida University on Wednesday in their NCAA meeting, first routing SFU’s doubles team with partner Nicole Martinez 8-2 before putting the beat down on Paula Montoya, winning 6-1, 6-2.
After a challenging freshman year, the UK native has pushed through the difficulties of moving across the pond and adapting to the demands of balancing college life and Division 1 tennis with greater perspective.
“I think it’s more the mental side of it, to be honest,” said Hande. “Just being more confident. I’ve had a year, I know what it’s all about.
“I know what’s happening, so no surprises. Last year wasn’t the best year so I’m just trying to take one match at a time and just enjoy the moment.”
Hande’s laidback off-court charm was very Jekyll to her on-court Hyde, where the 20-year-old had no patience for mercy and pushed Montoya around the court, combining heavy ground strokes and consistent serving into a polished and domineering victory.
Although the 5’10 British brunette doesn’t look like the typical intimidator, her on-court intensity and natural power overwhelmed her diminutive opponent and Hande was loving every minute of it.
“I think it’s because – well, I am competitive in general, but [the team’s] really close and enjoying fighting as a team.”
Here to win
Aside from going up two breaks to start the match, Hande’s amped attitude was clear when she walked up to the scoreboard and deftly marked the 5-0 lead she had quickly earned.
It’s sassy but it’s also the sign of a champion, of a player on the court with an unselfconscious focus on winning. The scoreline might make the victory seem easy but for young players, perfecting an ability to close is often a process.
“I think it’s something she’s really cultivated a lot better this year,” said NC State coach, Gerald Depka.
“Last year, she had a really tough freshman spring season, and to bounce back from that the way she has is really amazing, so she’s done a great job with staying positive.”
The focus on team dynamics has been a major factor in all the Wolfpack players’ development and has been key to Hande’s turnaround this season, with each player elevating the level of the next.
“The culture is working really, really hard and it’s really awesome because they’re feeding off each other now,” said Depka.
“All of them are just basically taking it up a notch every time. And at this point, what’s great is that they’re starting to play without thinking, so they’re competing well, which is fantastic.”
So now as NC State looks to roll their undefeated streak into the remainder of the year, Hande has ensured that the Wolfpack roar will be that much louder.