Alcorn tennis plays twice this week at Halls Ferry Park

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Normally, spring break is a time of relaxation and gives undergraduates a chance to explore the country. University of Nebraska Omaha tennis coach Michael Saniuk decided to use his university’s break to do such.

Saniuk rounded up his team and headed south to Vicksburg to play Alcorn State’s women’s tennis team at Halls Ferry Park Tuesday afternoon. Alcorn came away with a 4-3 victory.

The match was made when Saniuk reached out to Alcorn coach Anthony Dodgen and expressed interest in playing in a part of the country his team has never played. UNO’s team will head west to Louisiana to play a doubleheader against Grambling on Wednesday.

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“Spring break for us is always down in Florida or somewhere on the east coast,” Saniuk said. “We’ve never been to Mississippi. None of my players have been to the Louisiana area, so it’s just trying to get them to experience something they normally haven’t done.”

The Braves, who are a perennial power in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, proved to be a solid competitor for the Mavericks.

“They have a team from literally all around the world, which is nice to play against,” Saniuk said. “It gives us an opportunity to play some of the best players in the country. Competition breeds success on both sides of the ball.”

Saniuk hopes his team gains more confidence on the court while playing different types of opponents. The Mavericks are preparing for their Summit League conference schedule and the competition from the Braves is similar to what they’ll face.

“It’s been a great experience, right around the competition that we’re looking for,” Saniuk said.

Dodgen initially felt the exhibition against Omaha would be good practice for the SWAC championship a few weeks down the road. He said his team has had a solid season, beating Southern University, Jackson State and Alabama A&M.

“The girls earned a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament,” Dodgen said.

Dodgen implemented a “directional tennis” philosophy for his team. It revolves around keeping the ball moving, being willing to hit “100 or more” shots to win a point and going the distance in the match.

Rick Shields, tennis instructor at Halls Ferry Park, said the exhibition was originally supposed to be in Jackson, but he persuaded Dodgen to relocate to Vicksburg.

On Wednesday, Alcorn will play Arkansas, which is the No. 5 ranked team in the Southeastern Conference.

The exhibition matches not only help with the city’s economy in terms of restaurants and hotels, but exposes children to a new sport.

“They can watch them play and be motivated to work hard and play as they play,” Shields said.

Shields said collegiate tennis matches at Halls Ferry Park are held at least twice a year and he hopes to host some college tournaments in the future.