Working Hard Towards the Spring Season

Nov. 17, 2006

Although the fall season seemed to breeze by rather quickly, the UCF women's tennis team managed to learn a lot about itself in three highly competitive tournaments. Each student-athlete was able to work on their game in preparation for a difficult spring dual match schedule, all while playing against some of the top players in the area and even the nation.

Facing the loss of former No. 1 singles standout Pamela Fernandez, who was the lone senior on last year's squad, the Golden Knights were still very familiar with each other since seven student-athletes returned from 2005-06. That should provide Allison with some comfort room since she used a total of 13 different doubles combinations a year ago.

"Overall, the team showed great progress in both singles and in doubles," head coach Patricia Allison said. "Sophomore Elvira Serrot has really started to turn it on and seems to be accepting the role of a No. 1 player. We are very excited about that."

During the 2006 fall slate, Allison put together just three different doubles tandems and got very favorable results. The Golden Knights combined for a 9-6 record, highlighted by Jennifer Carati and Megan Hunter notching a 5-1 mark and a first-place finish in the "B" flight at the C.L. Varner Memorial Invitational in Winter Park, Fla., Sept. 22-24. The duo lost just 13 games in the four victories that weekend, and if they keep up that pace, Carati and Hunter could be a dominate force in the spring season.

Meanwhile, UCF earned a 29-20 record in singles action and got a delightful surprise in its only newcomer to the squad. Freshman Zoe Kent played a team-high 11 matches, all in just two tournaments, en route to an 8-3 mark. She began her collegiate career with four-straight wins in the "B" flight at the C.L. Varner Memorial, never allowing an opponent to win over three games during the streak.

Carati and senior Becky Gordon also were playing very well in the event as each dropped just one set before meeting in the semifinals. After Gordon squeaked by Carati, 6-4, 7-6, Gordon edged Kent in the finals, 2-6, 6-1, 7-5. By dominating the bracket, UCF proved that filling in the hole left by Fernandez should not be a problem.

Kent returned to the courts at the ITA Southern Regionals hosted by the University of Alabama Oct. 19-22 and continued her impressive play. Although she suffered a loss in the first round, she bounced back and picked up four more victories before being unable to play the finals because of her scheduled flight home. In the semis, though, Kent notched her first three-set win by eliminating Mississippi State's Tatiana Feit, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Two student-athletes that will definitely be vying for the No. 1 and No. 2 singles spots got their seasons going a week before the rest of the team. Serrot and junior Anna Yakimchenkova traveled to Georgia for the Thomasville Intercollegiate Invitational Sept. 15-17 and had the unfortunate task of playing against each other very early.

Following a defeat in their opening matches, Yakimchenkova earned a two-set victory over her teammate and went on to claim the backdraw title by giving up just five games in her final two contests. Serrot also shined in her last two outings of the event as her two opponents managed to win only six games. Down the road at the ITA regionals, Serrot edged Alabama's possible No. 1, Mari Muller, in three sets to conclude her fall on a very high note.

Serrot and Yakimchenkova did not team up in doubles last season, but got together this semester to post a 3-3 record. By gaining some valuable experience, their role as a doubles team could be very big this year.

"Anna played extremely well in the Rollins tournament and did great against the No. 2 player in the country (Georgia Tech's Kristi Miller) at the ITA regionals," Allison recalled. "Although she lost, 6-0, 6-4, she realized she missed a chance in that first set, but also how good of a tennis player she really is."

The Golden Knights will look to sophomore Kenza Belbacha to slide into one of the singles positions as well. Last spring, she primarily played out of the No. 3 spot but she also saw time at No. 2 and No. 4. Belbacha completed her fall campaign with a 2-3 record, earning a win at the C.L. Varner Memorial and the ITA Southern Regionals. She worked with Gordon on the doubles court and they will enter the spring with a 1-2 mark together.

"Kenza has really come on strong," commented Allison. "She had a very good tournament at the ITAs and had an outstanding match in the `B' draw. Her doubles has improved greatly, too."

UCF's fall tournaments may not have affected the team record, but the Golden Knights used the opportunities to work on some basics, get back into a rhythm after a long summer and build on the skills they already obtain. And with the knowledge and leadership of Allison, who is in her eighth-season on campus, the 2006-07 team is now primed for a run in the Conference USA Championships in April.