2012 ITA Women's Kick-Off Weekend Preview

2012 ITA Women's Kick-Off Weekend Preview

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The spring season of collegiate tennis shifts into full gear January 27-30 during the annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend. Sixty schools will be competing across the country for the 15 vacant spots at the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship, to be hosted next month by the University of Virginia.

The 15 universities hosting ITA Kick-Off Weekend events were designated as host sites in order of their year-end 2011 Campbell/ITA team ranking. Three visiting schools will travel to each host site for a four-team tournament. The host school will meet the No. 4 seed, the No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed, and the winners will come back the following day to play for a berth at the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship.

For specific dates and times of each match during ITA Kick-Off Weekend, please visit ITAtennis.com. Also note that RadioTennis.com will be broadcasting live from the University of Michigan as the Wolverines host Notre Dame, Yale and Maryland January 28-29.

With so much at stake and so many good matches on the horizon, here’s an in-depth look at what to expect from each of the 15 events.

(1) Duke, (2) Winthrop, (3) Illinois, (4) College of Charleston

Duke is one of only two teams in the country to claim six players in the Campbell/ITA singles rankings, making the Blue Devils the heaviest of favorites to advance out of ITA Kick-Off Weekend and into the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship.

Seventh-ranked Beatrice Capra gets most of the attention on Duke’s team, having won the consolation singles title at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. But Capra is just one of four phenomenal freshmen on the Blue Devils’ roster, joining Ester Goldfeld, No. 97 Annie Mulholland and No. 35 Monica Turewicz, who went 10-0 during the fall.

None of the other teams bound for Cameron will bring a ranked singles player, though Illinois does boast the 27th-ranked doubles team of Breanne Smutko and Chelcie Abajian.

(1) North Carolina, (2) VCU, (3) Brown, (4) Marshall

Arguably the most improved college tennis player during the fall season was North Carolina junior Lauren McHale. The younger sister of pro Christina McHale was unranked at the end of 2010-11 after spending much of the season as the Tar Heels’ No. 5 singles player.

She’s now North Carolina’s No. 1 and the nation’s No. 16 after posting a 15-5 fall record, defeating seven other ranked players, winning the USTA/ITA Carolina Regional title and reaching the quarterfinals of the USTA/ITA National Indoors. The Tar Heels return all but one starter from their 2010-11 squad, and have more than capably filled that void with freshman Caroline Price, who is ranked 55th in the country.

Joining North Carolina in Chapel Hill will be VCU, led by No. 120 Alex Bara; Brown, which features 56th-ranked doubles players Jessica Harrow and Misia Krasowski; and Marshall, which brings the 35th-ranked doubles team of Dominika Zaprazna and Maria Voscekova.

(1) UCLA, (2) Oklahoma, (3) St. Mary’s, (4) Utah

Eighth-ranked Robin Anderson of UCLA only played three tournaments during the fall, but that was more than enough for the 5-foot-3 freshman to prove she can hang with the biggest and best in women’s collegiate tennis.

This fall alone, Anderson beat the eventual USTA/ITA National Indoor champions in both singles and doubles. She walloped Marta Lesniak of SMU 6-3, 6-0 to reach the semifinals at the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships, and two weeks later teamed with Skylar Morton to defeat USC’s Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria 8-4 in the USTA/ITA Southwest Regional final.

Anderson and Morton aren’t the only Regional doubles champions scheduled to play in Los Angeles. Oklahoma’s Marie-Pier Huet and Whitney Ritchie enter as the USTA/ITA Central Regional champs. Utah is led by 90th-ranked Anastasia Putilina, while St. Mary’s boasts three ranked players: No. 68 Jenny Jullien, No. 82 Catherine Isip, No. 118 Jade Frampton.

(1) Baylor, (2) UT Arlington, (3) Wyoming, (4) Central Florida

With former Baylor No. 1 Sona Novakova injured for most of the fall, her doubles partner Diana Nakic filled in more than adequately as the Bears’ go-to girl. The senior from Slovenia won six matches to capture the USTA/ITA Texas Regional title and earn a berth at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.

Along the way, the 14th-ranked Nakic beat top-quality competition. At Regionals, she knocked off eventual USTA/ITA National Indoors champion Marta Lesniak of SMU 6-3, 6-2, and then took out No. 11 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar of Texas A&M 6-3, 6-1 in the final.

Nakic is expected to be rejoined by Novakova in Baylor’s lineup during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. Baylor welcomes UT Arlington, Central Florida and Wyoming, with the Cowgirls featuring USTA/ITA Mountain Regional doubles champions Veronica Popovici and Simona Synkova.

(1) Miami, (2) South Florida, (3) UCSB, (4) Cal State Northridge

The Hurricanes have a talented one-two punch at the top of their lineup, but will rely on a handful of untested newcomers at the bottom, which makes them one of the more vulnerable host schools during ITA Kick-Off Weekend.

While four Hurricanes’ underclassmen did not compete in the fall, Miami No. 1 Anna Bartenstein posted a 20-5 record in six tournaments, picking up 13 wins over ranked opponents along the way. Bartenstein is ranked 15th in the country, while teammate Gabriela Mejia is No. 39.

Most likely to test the Hurricanes on their home courts is South Florida. Bulls’ No. 1 Ecaterina Vasenina defeated Bartenstein 7-6(6), 7-6(6) at a fall event in Orlando, while Bulls’ No. 2 Danielle Mills will be extra motivated after playing her first two seasons for Miami.

(1) Georgia, (2) Fresno State, (3) FIU, (4) Missouri

Five of Georgia’s six singles starters from 2010-11 are back this season, led by 2010 NCAA singles champion and Campbell/ITA No. 2 Chelsey Gullickson. Playing in the difficult Southeast Region, which includes reigning NCAA team champion Florida, Gullickson shined during the fall.

Gullickson defeated three different Gators en route to the USTA/ITA Southeast Regional singles title, and also teamed with Lilly Kimbell to win the doubles title. Besides her successful partnership with Kimbell, Gullickson went 10-1 during the fall alongside Nadja Gilchrist, earning them the Campbell/ITA No. 2 doubles ranking.

Georgia also features No. 22 Maho Kowase, No. 52 Lauren Herring and No. 56 Kate Fuller. With depth like that, Fresno State, FIU and Missouri are in for an uphill battle in Athens. The (other) Bulldogs of Fresno State will feature 49th-ranked Marianne Jodoin.

(1) California, (2) Washington, (3) San Diego, (4) UNLV

Aside from Duke, California is the only women’s college tennis team to feature six ranked players. Reigning NCAA singles champion Jana Juricova is the highest-ranked Bear of the bunch, sitting at No. 5 in the current Campbell/ITA singles rankings.

Juricova reached the quarterfinals at the Riviera/ITA All-American and USTA/ITA National Indoors, and the semifinals at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regionals, losing at each stage to another Top 10 player. Meanwhile, Cal freshman Zsofi Susanyi earned a national ranking of No. 21 after defeating four other ranked players to win a fall tournament in Tempe, Ariz.

Washington and UNLV will counter with talented singles players of their own. No. 10 Denise Dy of Washington defeated Juricova in three sets to reach the USTA/ITA National Indoor semifinals, while No. 87 Aleksandra Josifoska of UNLV won the USTA/ITA Mountain Regional Championships.

(1) Michigan, (2) Notre Dame, (3) Yale, (4) Maryland

RadioTennis.com will be broadcasting live when Michigan hosts Notre Dame, Yale and Maryland during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. The Wolverines possess a terrific trio at the top of their lineup: No. 53 Sam Crister, No. 46 Brooke Bolender and No. 36 Emina Bektas.

Notre Dame’s Kristy Frilling, a four-time ITA All-American, struggled in singles during the fall. But despite a 2-5 singles mark, Frilling still managed to partner Shannon Mathews to the USTA/ITA Midwest Regional doubles title and the USTA/ITA National Indoor doubles final.

While Notre Dame and Michigan each feature one ranked doubles team, Yale will bring three to Ann Arbor. Not to be outdone, Maryland’s 28th-ranked singles player Cristina Stancu and 37th-ranked doubles team of Ana Belzunce and Welma Luus are coming off titles at the USTA/ITA Atlantic Regional Championships.

With four talented teams playing for one spot at the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship, you won’t want to miss live coverage from the University of Michigan on RadioTennis.com January 28-29.

(1) Northwestern, (2) Arkansas, (3) Nebraska, (4) Dartmouth

Always a presence near the top of the Campbell/ITA team rankings, Northwestern has once again fielded a team that will be among the favorites for a Big Ten title. Wildcat No. 1 Kate Turvy has made the jump from No. 4 singles last season, and is ranked 26th in the country following a 10-4 fall.

In doubles, Northwestern is led by the sixth-ranked team in the country: Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton. Mushrefova and Hamilton were semifinalists at both the USTA/ITA National Indoors and the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships.

Though no one on Arkansas or Dartmouth is ranked, Nebraska will roll into Evanston, Ill., with three ranked singles players: No. 50 Mary Weatherholt, No. 84 Madeleine Geibert and No. 100 Stefanie Weinstein.

(1) Georgia Tech, (2) South Carolina, (3) William & Mary, (4) Georgia State

On paper, little seems to separate Georgia Tech and South Carolina, which could meet in the final of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend event in Atlanta.

The Yellow Jackets are led by 45th-ranked Jillian O’Neill, who went 11-3 during the fall, and 108th-ranked Christina Ngo. The Gamecocks will counter with No. 20 Anya Morgina, No. 80 Dijana Stojic and No. 33 Jaklin Alawi, who is coming off an 11-2 fall.

All four teams bound for Atlanta will feature singles players who transferred this season. Alawi (Long Beach State), Georgia Tech No. 4 Alex Anghelescu (Georgia), Georgia State No. 4 Whitney Byrd (Auburn-Montgomery) and William & Mary No. 1 Kayla Rizzolo (Miami) and No. 4 Maria Belaya (Clemson) are all hoping to impress their new coaches during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.

Clemson, Kansas State, Purdue, UNC-Wilmington (seeds TBD)

By starting the fall as the No. 1-ranked doubles team in the Campbell/ITA national rankings, all eyes at Clemson were placed squarely on seniors Josipa Bek and Keri Wong.

But while Bek and Wong didn’t disappoint -- winning the USTA/ITA Carolina Regional Championship -- it was Tiger junior Nelly Ciolkowski who shined the brightest on her team during the fall. After reaching the Regional singles final, Ciolkowski went 5-1 for her native France at the Master’U BNP Paribas, defeating 25th-ranked Lauren Embree of Florida along the way. The highest-ranked singles player at this site will be No. 17 Petra Niedermayerova of Kansas State, who reached the semifinals of the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships.
A rash of injuries at Wake Forest resulted in the Demon Deacons pulling out of the event due to lack of available players. That opened the door for UNC-Wilmington, which is replacing Wake Forest for the event. The Seahawks feature two players with double-digit singles wins on the season, and all six singles players enter the weekend with winning records.

(1) Florida State, (2) Texas A&M, (3) Ole Miss, (4) Ohio State

After a memorable run to the ACC final in 2011, Florida State was fairly inactive during the fall. Consequently, the Seminoles were missing entirely from the latest Campbell/ITA singles and doubles rankings. With four newcomers and no seniors on the roster, the Seminoles will be hard-pressed to get off to a fast start in 2012.

FSU is hosting two of the more dangerous road teams participating in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend: Texas A&M and Ole Miss. The Aggies boast three ranked singles players, led by No. 11 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar, a Maryland transfer who reached the USTA/ITA Texas Regional final and posted a win this fall over USTA/ITA National Indoors champion Marta Lesniak of SMU.

Ole Miss senior Kristi Boxx also enjoyed a successful fall season, earning a No. 12 ranking in singles and the No. 4 spot in doubles with Abby Guthrie. Boxx won the USTA/ITA Southern Regional singles title. Ohio State will bring in the No. 52 doubles team in the nation in Kara Cecil and Kelsey Dieters.

(1) Vanderbilt, (2) Texas, (3) Alabama, (4) Arizona

If you’re seeking top-notch singles play during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, look no further than Nashville. That’s because all four teams headed to Tennessee boast multiple ranked singles players.

Commodore senior Jackie Wu will lead a trio of ranked players from host Vanderbilt. The 23rd-ranked Wu won the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional singles title. No. 69 Lauren Mira and No. 110 Marie Casares are also expected to represent the Commodores. In their opening match, they will meet an Arizona squad that includes No. 57 Natasha Marks, No. 73 Kim Stubbe and No. 107 Lacey Smyth.

Texas heads to Nashville with No. 47 Aeriel Ellis and No. 119 Noel Scott in tow, but the Longhorns will be challenged in their first match by an Alabama squad that features No. 13 Mary Anne Macfarlane, No. 43 Alexa Guarachi and No. 104 Courtney McLane. Macfarlane won 17 of her first 18 matches this fall, including a 6-3, 6-4 victory over the No. 1 player in the nation, Mallory Burdette of Stanford.

(1) Tennessee, (2) Tulsa, (3) NC State, (4) UC Davis

With three Top 60 singles players and a pair of Top 20 doubles teams, Tennessee will enter its ITA Kick-Off Weekend event with confidence to burn.

Playing No. 1 singles and doubles for the Volunteers will be Natalie Pluskota, who defeated six ranked players during the fall in singles and teamed with Kata Szekely to win the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional doubles title. Pluskota and Szekely are ranked No. 24 and No. 59 respectively in singles, and No. 9 as a team in doubles.

Brynn Boren is the other Volunteer to be ranked in both polls, coming in at No. 27 in singles and No. 18 in doubles with Sarah Toti. Other players to watch in Knoxville during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend will be 40th-ranked Joelle Kissell of NC State and the Tulsa tandem of 63rd-ranked Samantha Vickers and 78th-ranked Anastasia Erofeeva.

(1) Arizona State, (2) USC, (3) Sacramento State, (4) Texas Tech

Host Arizona State and visiting USC will be favored to advance out of the opening round and into a Pac-12 showdown for the right to play at the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship.

The Sun Devils are led by 9th-ranked Jacqueline Cako, who reached the final of the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships. Along the way, Cako defeated reigning NCAA champion Jana Juricova of California and eventual USTA/ITA National Indoors finalist Joanna Mather of Florida.

A young USC squad posted phenomenal results during the fall. No. 18 Sabrina Santamaria, No. 19 Zoe Scandalis and No. 42 Danielle Lao all participated in the singles draw at the USTA/ITA National Indoors. In doubles, Santamaria and Kaitlyn Christian came away with the title.

Arizona State swept its two meetings with USC in 2011. The teams will meet again this season on April 7 in Los Angeles.

(Note: As the host school, the University of Virginia automatically qualifies for the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship.)

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