|Women's Tennis Program Begins Clark Era|
WILMINGTON, North Carolina - With a smooth transition in place, new UNCW head women's tennis coach Evan Clark says the 2012-13 edition of the team holds great promise as a season-opening weekend trip to Virginia approaches.
Clark took over the reins of the program in early summer following the departure of longtime coach Jenny Garrity. The Seahawks return seven players from last year's club, along with Texas newcomer Christine Kharkevitch.
"The transition's been great because we have an unbelievable group of student-athletes," said Clark, who served as an assistant men's coach at Maryland before joining the Seahawks. "I couldn't be happier with this group. We're very excited about the upcoming spring season."
The Seahawks open the campaign indoors on Friday with a 2 p.m. match against James Madison in Norfolk, Va. Clark's squad then moves up to William & Mary the next day to battle preseason Colonial Athletic Association favorite William & Mary in Williamsburg.
"Playing two conference matches right away is not your typical start to the season, but just kind of the way it happened," explained Clark. "We have a lot of respect for the JMU and William & Mary programs. We'll have to be prepared for each team and compete well."
The Seahawks went 15-7 last year and scaled as high as No. 67 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings. Overall, the team closed with an 80-42 (.656) singles record and 38-21 (.644) doubles ledger.
Christina Riley is the lone senior on the eight-man roster and brings a lot of experience and leadership to the team. The Avon, Ind., product has amassed a 34-22 career record, including 11-4 last season, and excelled in the classroom as well.
"Christina has done a very good job in her leadership role. All of the members of the team respect her and our staff really appreciates the way she's stepped up and led this year."
The junior class consists of veterans Olga Blank, Kelly Cameron and Angie Sekely. The three has combined to play 88 matches over the last two seasons, giving Clark and the Seahawks valuable experience in the heart of the lineup.
Sekely, from Mississauga, Ontario, is a two-time Second-Team All-CAA selection in singles and doubles, while Cameron has earned Third-Team All-CAA accolades in singles her first two years. Blank teamed up with Sekely for conference honors in doubles in 2011-12.
Clark said, "We have four upperclassmen and four underclassmen, with a good balance of experienced players. The upperclassmen should be able to help the younger players, especially at the beginning of the season."
The sophomore class features 2012 CAA Co-Rookie of the Year Alyssa Ritchie, complemented by Miller Hales and Hamilton Lovett. Hard-hitting Houston native Christine Kharkevitch is the only freshman in the group.
Ritchie, from Franklin, Ohio, fashioned a sparking 17-3 record last spring and won 14 straight to end the season. She shared the CAA's top rookie honors with Old Dominion's Aleksandra Mitrovska.
The team will miss the contributions of All-CAA First-Teamer and MVP Christina Lee, one of the all-time greats in the program, but Clark believes this year's installment should be able to continue the successful track of the program over recent years.
"The team has worked really hard and we're really excited about having the opportunity to start competing," he said. "We have eight players, so everyone knows they'll contribute in one way or another, right away or later. We're ready to go. We're just going to dig in and prepare for two battles this weekend."
After three road matches to kick off the season, the Seahawks make their home debut on Saturday, Feb. 16, with a 1:30 p.m. match against visiting Campbell.