Women's Tennis Preview

  • By Brian Kuppelweiser
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  • January 18, 2012 11:18 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - With a tough 2010-11 season in the rearview mirror, the West Virginia women’s tennis team heads into 2012 with a renewed focus to compete in the BIG EAST Conference.

Under the guidance of second-year coach Tina Samara, the Mountaineers will welcome back four returners, as well as four newcomers, that will combine to give the squad a mixture of athleticism, competitiveness and skill.

“We are going to play better this year than we ever have,” Samara says. “The sense of urgency is going to light a fire under each one of our girls. The chemistry is so much better than it has been in the past, and that alone can overcome a lot of obstacles on a team.”

Senior Veronica Cardenas and junior Emily Mathis return as the most experience players in the lineup as they have competed in a combined 250 matches during the course of their careers.

Cardenas finished last season with a total of 16 wins, while contributing in the No. 2, 3 and 4 singles spots.

“It is Veronica’s senior year, so I feel like she has really committed herself to making it the best that she can,” Samara says. “She has the urgency and has realized that this is it. She has gotten into way better shape, and she is having a lot more fun. We would like her to finish up strong.”

Mathis, who led the team in wins during the 2011 fall season, is the heart and soul of the Mountaineers as she brings a fierce determination to the court that is unrivaled by her competitors. The Flower Mound, Texas resident produced 19 wins last season and heads onto the court with yet another year of match experience under her belt.

“She is arguably the hardest worker on the team,” Samara says. “She took a leadership role towards the end of last year, and she shows everyone that never giving up can get you a long way.”

Also returning to the WVU lineup is sophomore Mary Chupa. The Bradenton, Fla., resident showed consistency throughout the 2011 fall season and had a team-leading 22 wins in 2011. Chupa also led the team with a total of 13 singles victories last season.

“Mary struggled with being happy out there for a bit, but she has completely turned it around now,” Samara says. “You can see in the way that she is hitting the ball that she is happy. Mary and Emily will be playing doubles together, and their chemistry looks to be very good right now.”

The last returner for the Mountaineers is senior Catie Wickline. The Orchard Park, N.Y., product is a former walk-on that features a big frame and a powerful serve. Although she lacks the match experience of her fellow returnees, Wickline is expected to be a key contributor during the 2011-12 season.

“Catie is a great example of perseverance,” Samara says. “She works very hard in lifts and conditioning. She has improved a ton, and she is going to be put in a tough spot this year. We are hoping that she will be able to step up and handle the pressure.”

Along with contributions from veterans, Samara expects freshman Ikttesh Chahal to be a key part of the puzzle for the Mountaineers. The Chandigarh, India native was ranked as high as No. 559 in the ITF Junior World rankings and No. 48 in the national singles rankings. Chahal competed in each event during the fall season and showed an ability to perform against top-notch opponents.

“She is starting to really get it,” Samara says. “She has started to show what she is really capable of doing. We expect her to have an impact this year.”

Samara will also welcome freshman Madison Hromada to the Mountaineers’ roster. The Lorain, Ohio resident is a two-time state champion, was the No. 7-ranked recruit in the state of Ohio and the 210th best nationally while holding an IMG RPI of No. 258.

“Madison is a girl that brings great athletic ability to a match,” Samara says. “She is someone that we look forward to having contribute this season as well as in the future.

Also new to the team will be junior Lea Jansen, who transferred from Washington State. Jansen will redshirt during the 2011-12 season. During her time with the Cougars, the Valleyford, Wash., resident displayed an ability to compete in one of the elite tennis conferences in the nation as she posted seven doubles wins. Jansen was ranked as high as No. 69 nationally coming out of high school.

The final newcomer for the Mountaineers is freshman Jade Allen. The London, England product has trained and competed in Spain, France, Portugal and Great Britain, while being ranked in the top 50 nationally. Allen will begin competition with the Mountaineers during the 2012-13 season.

“It is unfortunate Lea and Jade can’t play, but we are looking at it in a positive manner,” Samara says. “They are going to really understand our system when this time of the year rolls around next year. We don’t expect any bumps in the road when they start competing.”

WVU will begin the season this Saturday, Jan. 21, as they travel to Columbus, Ohio for a match against Ohio State. Non-conference matchups against Morehead State and Virginia will help prepare the Mountaineers for the rigors of the BIG EAST Conference.

In addition, WVU will travel to Florida on March 25-28 to take on North Florida, Stetson and Central Florida.

The Mountaineers close out their season on April 19-22 at the BIG EAST Championships, which will be played this year in Tampa, Fla.