Start of tennis season nears
The Cougars will attempt to take advantage of a beneficial opening schedule draw that begins with six consecutive home matches when they take on in-state foe Sam Houston State on Saturday.
The Cougars will face a Bearkats squad riddled with injuries. As a result, SHSU has lost its last five matches, including a 6-1 decision against Illinois State on Feb. 7.
“They’re (SHSU) struggling with injuries; they’ve defaulted quite a few spots with their number one player,” head coach John Severance said. “They’re a very talented team, they have just been hit with the injury bug to open up the season.”
The Cougars have four newcomers on their team, including three freshmen from foreign nations: Bryony Hunter (Great Britain), Maja Kazimieruk (Poland) and Alexandra Pickerill (Ireland). The Cougars also welcome Elena Kazakova, a junior transfer from Minnesota who was born in Russia.
Severance expects his players to be a little nervous, considering they’ve never played at the collegiate level.
“I would imagine the only jitters we have is because of a lack of experience,” Severance said. “I do believe we are confident with our ability and talent, it’s just some of these girls have never been in a college match before.”
The team’s three returning players include one senior in Neila Starrat and juniors Laura Ring and Joanna Kacprzyk. Kacprzyk is the team’s sole left-handed player.
Severance hopes this trio can help his freshmen quickly adapt to the collegiate game. So far, he’s seen plenty of positive signs.
“I’m impressed with the way we’ve developed in the last three and a half weeks. We are starting a little bit later than normal because I knew we were going to have a young team,” Severance said. “We needed to put in some quality practices prior to our long season.”
Developing the freshmen will be key, but Starrat, Kacprzyk and Ring are coming off solid seasons. Severance believes their experience will be enough to balance out their youth.
Houston went 88-38 last season in singles play, led by Kacprzyk (14-6) and Starrat (12-2). Starrat will be only the second senior to play four seasons during Severance’s tenure, joining ’09 senior Vicky Simpson.
“All of them have something to prove,” Severance said. “Joanna wants to prove she wasn’t a one shot wonder. Neila … is playing much better tennis then she did last year. It’s her last season, so she has a lot to prove. Laura has a lot of talent and played hurt all year last year, and now she is pretty healthy.”
UH has a tough schedule ahead of them, including three matches in three days from Feb. 19-21. The Cougars will match up with Louisiana Tech, Texas Pan-American and, finally, Northwestern State in this strech.
All home games are played on campus at John E. Hoff Courts.