Senior adjusts to off-court role
When Leonora Slatnick first joined the Rutgers tennis team, she never imagined her senior season would consist of rooting on her teammates as an assistant coach harnessed in a sling.
After three years of competition in which the veteran held winning records in both singles and doubles play, Slatnick was ready to take on a leaderships role on the court during her final year.
Shoulder surgery changed all of that.
“It’s kind of tough looking past this and all the matches and everything and not being able to play,” Slatnick said. “But [head coach Ben Bucca] let me be a assistant coach for the season, so it’s nice to still be involved”
Slatnick first started to experience pain in her shoulder last season during the Big East Championships. The veteran thought it was only inflamed and took time off to let her injury heal. But after rehab, her shoulder problems did not improve. An MRI revealed the cause of her pain was more than only inflammation.
Slatnick had torn her labrum, which required surgery. She would have to watch her senior season from the sidelines.
“At first, they said I could go the intense-rehab route and try and get it better so I could play and then get surgery,” Slatnick said. “But after a while it just wasn’t getting any better. So I’m disappointed but wanted to take care of it now rather than deal with it later.”
Her injury also affected the depth of the team. Last season, Slatnick competed on the No. 2 doubles team and saw consistent action in the No. 5 and 6 singles positions.
While her injury prevented her from competing on the court, her experience with the team gave her an opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for the Scarlet Knights. Her knowledge of the game provided Bucca with a veteran communicator who could relate well to the rest of the team.
“I was really glad that Leonora still wanted to stay active with the team although she had a season-ending operation,” Bucca said. “ So we discussed ways that she could remain engaged on the team. The biggest way she has done that is she has, in many respects, taken on the role of a coach.”
That role included running practices, leading the team in discussions and even coaching during matches.
Fellow senior and team captain Jennifer Holzberg is glad Slatnick has taken on the capacity as coach and supportive teammate. The two have known each other since they both arrived to play for Bucca their freshman year and are best friends, Holzberg said.
The familiarity they have with each other helped Holzberg on the court all season. She competes in both No. 1 singles and doubles positions.
“She has helped me a lot,” Holzberg said. “When she comes on my court during matches, she always has good advice and just knows my strengths. She’s smart about certain strategies.”
For now, Slatnick provides crucial knowledge for a young team going through a successful season. The Knights feature four underclassmen in their rotation and are currently 5-2 this spring. Slatnick’s ability to relate to what they go through on the court has made her effective in her approach.
“I like to think that they look up to me,” Slatnick said. “But I just think just being able to coach them and having a younger person instructing them and helping them, it’s a lot easier for them to take it from me than the coach.”