Head Coach Tom Morris opens his 14th spring season Saturday.
Jan. 27, 2012
by Sam Hickman ECUPirates.com
GREENVILLE, N.C - The East Carolina women's tennis team looks to continue to its winning ways in 2012 after posting the program's highest single-season victory totals in six of the last seven years.
After recording back-to-back 18-win campaigns in 2010 and 2011, head coach Tom Morris is optimistic about the potential for the 2012 squad despite its youth and inexperience.
The Lady Pirates are faced with replacing Jessica Cook, who was a staple at the top of the lineup for the last three years. Other key departures include Audrey LePottier, Petra Vogel, Kristin Gordon, Tamara Sachs, and Manon Bissat. Cook, Vogel, and LePottier made up three of ECU's top-five players from a year ago, but Morris indicated this year's roster has the ability to uphold ECU's status as an up-and-coming program in Conference USA.
"We're certainly young," noted Morris, who is beginning his 14th year of leadership. "It will hurt losing the players from last year's team, but the future is promising. Looking at all the solid young players we have, it's hard not to be excited about what is to come. I'm excited about the direction this program is headed."
Returning players for East Carolina include senior Natalie Collins, juniors Abby Richmond and Yilian Zhang, and sophomores Vanessa Fuleihan and Neena Wanko. The 2012 Lady Pirates will feature four newcomers in junior Danielle Terpko (Mississippi State transfer), sophomore Renata Bakieva, and freshmen Dana Gray and Karling Watson.
Wanko (15-8) and Zhang (12-6) both enjoyed stellar seasons in 2011, combining for a 27-14 ledger in singles play. Collins was a fixture in the middle of the Lady Pirate lineup, finishing the year with an 11-13 record.
Morris looks to Collins, the lone senior on the roster, to provide leadership and stability to a group that features several players with limited experience at the collegiate level.
"Natalie has always been a steady player, someone we could count on to get the team a point," he said. "She's a very hard worker and she has done a nice job stepping into a leadership role this year. We certainly need her to be solid for us and I'm confident she will be."
Once again, the Lady Pirates are tasked with a difficult schedule, which includes non-conference duals against ACC foes North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Morris suggested that while his young team will continue to improve as the season progresses, it does not have the luxury of easing its way into the matches.
"You look at our schedule and we travel to Virginia Tech, and then have matches against UCF and Tulane. That's three solid programs right there. We will find out a lot about our team early in the season. We don't have time to get our feet wet. We have to work hard to be competitive in singles and doubles throughout the lineup to give ourselves a chance."
ECU will embark on its 2012 campaign Saturday, Jan. 28 with a 3:30 p.m. match against Virginia Tech. The Lady Pirates will host North Carolina Central on Friday, Feb. 10 in the season's home opener.