Feb. 29, 2008
One would assume that a head coach returning five starters, including three players ranked in the preseason singles poll and the nation’s #2 doubles team, would find it difficult to contain her excitement for her upcoming season. However, Nancy Harris remained quite calm as she discussed her goals and expectations for the 2008 Clemson women’s tennis team.
“Our goals are simply to reach our potential,” she said. “We are focusing on developing our young, yet talented, players as quickly as possible, which will hopefully result in a wonderful journey to the national title.”
Harris, now in her 11th season at the helm of the program, has built a team with the ability and depth to compete on the national level as well as within the challenging Atlantic Coast Conference. The Tigers return seven letterwinners from the 2007 team that claimed a share of the conference regular season crown, finished 11th in the final rankings and compiled a 22-5 overall record.
A trio of freshman started on that squad, gaining valuable experience from which they should begin reaping the benefits of this season. Clemson lost just one senior from the 2007 team, but the leadership Maria Brito provided will be difficult to replace. She could often be heard throughout the stands encouraging her teammates with a “Go Tigers!” from her court.
Brito was the last remaining member of both Final Four teams and finished her career with 86 career singles wins and 99 doubles victories, which was just one doubles win shy of the school record.
With Brito’s graduation, the team voted senior Carol Salge, junior Federica van Adrichem and sophomore Ani Mijacika as its captains. All three have played number-one singles for the Tigers in their careers and each have participated in the NCAA singles tournament.
Mijacika returns for her second year after completing one of the most successful rookie campaigns in program history a season ago. The native of Makarska, Croatia became the first Clemson women’s tennis player in school history to be selected as the ACC Freshman-of-the-Year and was also named the ITA Southeast Region Rookie Player-of-the-Year.
Mijacika posted a perfect 11-0 record against ACC opponents in 2007 en route to a 20-3 dual match record that included a stretch of 14 straight victories. Overall, she boasted a 25-7 record for the year.
Mijacika started the fall season on an even better note than she finished last spring’s, winning the flight one bracket of the Furman Fall Classic in late September. She then reached the finals of the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships in October.
She defeated the nation’s sixth-ranked player in the quarterfinals before falling in a three-set battle to the #4 player from Cal in the championship match.
“In that tournament, Ani showed that she can compete for the national singles title,” said Harris. “She has developed into a much more mature player and has a presence on the court. Ani has a great future ahead of her in this sport.”
Van Adrichem partnered with Mijacika last spring to become arguably the most potent doubles tandem in Clemson women’s tennis history. The duo advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Doubles Championships, was named All-America and earned the #4 final ranking, the highest in school history.
In singles play, Van Adrichem boasted a 17-7 overall record in 2006-07 and owns a 39-22 ledger in her two seasons at Clemson.
“Federica has a chance to play in the top half of the line-up,” Harris said. “She continues to improve her game.”
Carol Salge, the team’s lone scholarship senior, is also expected to challenge for a top spot this year. In three seasons as a Tiger, she has compiled a 68-37 singles record.
“Carol has played number-one singles for us in seasons past and I expect her to be a factor this year as a senior as well,” said Harris.
As a mid-season enrollee, Salge played at flight six in her first semester at Clemson, observing the team’s #1-player that season, Julie Coin. Coin was ranked as high as #2 in the nation that year, providing an exceptional example from which to learn. The current senior quickly worked her way to the top of the line-up, earning the coveted number-one spot in just her second year. Salge, therefore, has the ability and potential to stay at the top this season.
Sophomores Estefania Balda and Ina Hadziselimovic, already extremely talented players, improved their games over the summer break and Harris sees the possibility of both moving up in the line-up.
Balda enrolled in school last January, so 2007-08 will be her first full year with the program. She posted a 16-8 singles record at the top three positions and still has untapped potential, according to Harris.
Balda was the first player to win a set off of Miami’s Audra Cohen, the nation’s top player a year ago, when she took Cohen to three during the regular season.
The Guayaquil, Ecuador native also recorded notable upsets over players ranked at #28 and #41 at the time. The wins helped the Tigers edge Georgia Tech and UCLA, the eventual national champion and runner-up, by 4-3 margins.
Hadziselimovic, a very composed player on the court, played mostly at the number-six spot last year but figures to move to the middle of this season’s line-up. She totaled 17 wins in 2006-07 with 15 gained in dual matches.
“I have a lot of admiration and respect for Ina’s game,” said Harris. “She is very strong mentally and has a great understanding of the game. Ina is ahead for a sophomore in her tactical foundation and how well she reads the court.”
Maria Brito, who graduated last May, to record a 14-6 doubles ledger.
For her career, the native of Paris, France owns a a 24-14 singles record with a 31-14 mark in doubles action. If healthy, Luc is quite capable of playing her way into the singles line-up.
Walk-on Kathryn Gerber, a senior from Vienna, WV, also plays a significant role on and off the court for the team. Gerber is a very intelligent player with medical school aspirations. She has been named an ITA Scholar Athlete in each of the past two seasons and has been a fixture on the Honor Roll.
“I’m encouraging Kathi to push the line-up,” Harris said. “She is a great person and provides leadership for this team.”
For her lone newcomer, Harris signed local sensation Laurianne Henry of Anderson, SC. Henry was a Blue Chip recruit and ranked 12th in the United States as a junior player. She won numerous tournaments prior to her Clemson career and has compiled a 6-3 record through the first three events last fall.
“Laurianne is a fantastic addition to our program,” said Harris. “I see her improving extremely quickly. She is a great student of the game and a very strong, talented player.”
Henry was trained by Andy Johnston, the head coach of the Clemson women’s tennis program prior to Harris, in nearby Anderson.
Schedule Along with the challenging schedule Harris annually arranges to prepare her team, she also accepted invitations for more difficult fall tournaments for the Tigers this year.
Harris stresses the benefits of the fall season, which allows her and Assistant Coach Darrell Jernigan time to focus more intently on the individual games of the student-athletes. It also provides them a chance to mix the doubles lineups to determine which players complement each other on the court.
The team faced some difficult tests this fall, passing some while failing others. But in all, the task was achieved as the lessons learned can be applied in the championship spring season.
The Tigers competed in the Furman Fall Classic in late September against a tough field of eight teams. Along with Mijacika’s flight one title, Clemson earned one second-place finish and a pair of Tigers finished third.
Four players then earned invitations to the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships, while all nine members of the squad competed at the Wilson/ITA Southeast Regional Championships in mid-October. Henry and Van Adrichem reached the round of 16 in the singles draw, and the doubles team of Hadziselimovic and Luc advanced to the quarterfinals. Mijacika and Van Adrichem then reached the final four of the tournament before falling to the eventual champion.
The Tigers’ final fall tournament was the elite Duals In The Desert Tournament held in Palm Springs, CA in early November. Just seven of the top programs in the country were invited to the event, giving the still young Clemson team experience competing against the best teams in the nation.
“The Doral Tournament is an outdoor event and we were very excited to earn an invitation,” Harris said. “Playing outdoors allows for longer, tougher points, which then prepares our players for the NCAA Championships in the spring.”
The South Carolina climate, which typically reaches 60-degrees in Clemson by early March, gives the Tigers a definite advantage in preparation. They play the majority of their matches outside and consistently practice on the outdoor courts.
However, this season, Clemson will have four home matches in the first four weeks of play that will likely be held indoors. The Tigers will then play nine straight matches on the road before returning to the Hoke Sloan Tennis Center on the last weekend of March.
Overall this spring, the Tigers will play 14 matches against 2006 NCAA Tournament teams and will face a tough non-conference schedule that includes a trio of SEC teams. Clemson also earned its third invitation in the last four years to the prestigious USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships in February.
Last season, the Tigers upset then-ranked #14 UCLA, the eventual NCAA runner-up, and won over #37 Brigham Young in the event.
Half of this year’s field is comprised of teams from the ACC and Pac-10, providing further evidence of the two conferences’ dominance on the tennis courts. Along with Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina will represent the ACC, while the Pac-10 will send Cal, Southern Cal, Stanford and UCLA.
The remaining teams include Arkansas, Baylor, Fresno State, Georgia, Northwestern, Notre Dame, William & Mary and host Wisconsin.
The Tigers faced players from several of those schools during the fall season, as five also participated at the Duals In The Desert in November.
Prior to the tournament, Clemson will welcome non-conference opponents Purdue and Virginia Commonwealth to the Hoke Sloan Tennis Center. The Tigers will then play host to Kentucky following the Team Indoors.
Clemson, co-regular season champions last season, will open its ACC slate against defending national champion Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Feb. 27. The match will be the third in a string of nine played away from the Tigers’ home venue, as they will also face Georgia, South Carolina, South Florida, Miami, Florida State, the College of Charleston, North Carolina and Duke on the road between Feb. 20 and Mar. 23.
The Tigers will conclude the 2008 regular season with a six-match homestand against ACC foes Wake Forest, NC State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Maryland and Boston College.
The 2008 ACC Championships will be held at the Sanlando Park from Apr. 17-20 in Altamonte Springs, FL. Clemson will look to advance past the semifinals of the tournament for the first time since claiming the title in 2004.
The National Championships move to Oklahoma this season, as the University of Tulsa will play host to the annual event from May 15-20, and the Tigers hope to be punching their tickets The Sooner State.
To do so, however, Harris faces an enviable task in assembling a six-player line-up out of her extremely talented squad to successfully navigate through the demanding schedule awaiting.
Although Harris conveyed modest expectations, the 2008 Clemson women’s tennis team appears poised for another deep run, possibly the greatest in program history, in the NCAA Championships.
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