Opposites attract victories
Ebba Unden and Hayley Thompson started playing tennis thousands of miles apart, but joined together to become the No. 1 doubles pair at LBSU.
May 11, 2015
An unlikely partnership came to an end Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Officials suspended Ebba Unden and Hayley Thompson’s match after Virginia Tech secured victories over LBSU’s two other doubles teams, sealing the point for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech defeated LBSU 4-2 at the Marks Tennis Center in Los Angeles, putting an end to the team’s season.
Differences in on-court personalities aside, Unden and Thompson have risen to the No. 1 doubles pairing on the team.
“Their games complement each other and their personalities complement each other,” LBSU head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello said. “Ebba tends to be a little bit more fiery on the court and Haley is a little bit more subdued, but I think Haley feeds off of Ebba’s energy.”
Unden’s energy is hard to miss. The 5 foot 8 inch junior from Stockholm, Sweden is talkative and energetic, constantly working to keep her teammate motivated.
“It definitely helps me a lot on the court,” Thompson said. “If I miss a shot she is always like ‘Come on. Right back. We got it.’”
Unden’s love of tennis began in Sweden at the age of four and continued through high school. Universities in Sweden are not structured to combine athletics and education, said Unden. As graduation neared, she started looking for a school in the U.S. that would allow her to the opportunity for both. The future business major embraced the challenge of playing in a new tennis culture.
“When I came here to America, it was one of the first times where I worked with a purpose in practices,” Unden said. “After the match you talk about and evaluate what happened. When I was playing at home, it was so result oriented. I had never had a conversation with a coach after a match. It was all, ‘You won. You lost.’ You’re either happy or you cry, and then you go home.”
Thompson, who grew up in Irvine, nearly 5,500 miles away from Unden, could not be more different. Thompson, the 5 foot 7 inch sophomore began her athletic career not on the court, but on the ice, playing hockey — a sport that contradicts the unassuming and reserved personality of Thompson.
“I wish we’d see a little bit more of that hockey goon mentality,” Hilt-Costello said. “[Thompson’s] too nice on the court.”
Unden sees Thompson a little differently than Hilt-Costello. Unden described Thompson as more vocal than her coach may realize.
“I have to be very pumped and loud to play good; if not, I’ll get sleepy,” Unden said. “With Hayley, we give each other energy.”
Tennis partnerships can be especially difficult to pin down. Hilt-Costello said that one that is working today might not always be the case, sometimes requiring partnerships to be split. She said there is no formula to finding a successful pairing.
“It’s nothing magical,” Hilt-Costello said. “It is really just a matter of trial and error with a lot of different matchups and then you see which ones work.”
She said what may not seem like a perfect fit at first can show signs of promise. That was how Unden described the first time that she partnered with Thompson near the end of last semester.
“The first match that we played together was such an epic fail,” Unden said. “I kind of really screwed it up on a couple of points. But I still felt like we had good potential and that our games could fit each other.”
Hilt-Costello also saw potential in those early matches, and she kept the two players together through the rest of the season. That intuition came to fruition in the finals of the Big West tournament; both women called the 8-2 victory over UC Santa Barbara’s No. 1 doubles team the best they had played all season.
“Obviously everyone at this level can play groundstrokes,” Unden said. “It’s not about forehands and backhands. It’s about mental stuff and how you work as a team.”
Three days before the Long Beach State women’s tennis team headed into the NCAA tournament, Unden let out a yell with almost every swing of her racket. Thompson released a small sigh each time her racket connected with the little green ball. After hitting a ball off course, Unden looked up toward the sky, as if to chastise the tennis gods, while Thompson turned down toward her feet, as if to dive into herself for an answer that only she had.
Little did they know that they would be left to think about the potential of that suspended match, reflecting on how far they had come since that first match and hoping the chemistry they developed would return when the new season arrives.