2008 Women's Tennis Season Preview

Jan. 11, 2008

On many occasions, a stellar playing career can lead to a very successful run as a head coach. Stephanie Nickitas is hoping that will hold true in 2008.

Nickitas was a standout student-athlete at the University of Florida, where she claimed two NCAA doubles titles, had an 89.5 doubles winning percentage, won 128 singles matches from 1996-99 and helped the Gators to the 1996 and 1998 NCAA team championships. After assistant coaching duties at both Duke and Harvard, the Tampa native takes over the reigns at UCF in what will be her first experience as a head coach at the collegiate level.

Nickitas steps into a program that features eight student-athletes whom were born in eight different countries. It also has a wealth of veteran guidance in seniors Jennifer Carati, Kyla McNicol and Anna Yakimchenkova, who led UCF to an 11-8 record in 2007.

"I expect a tremendous about of leadership to come out of Anna, Kyla and Jennifer," said Nickitas. "I'm looking forward to them having great senior seasons. They will lead this team in terms of character, competitiveness and sharing their past experiences with the rest of the group."

Carati busted out for 13 doubles victories last season after recording a combined six during her first two years with the Black and Gold. With 20 career singles wins, the Venezuela native could be a threat throughout the UCF lineup.

"Jennifer is a tremendous leader," commented Nickitas. "She brings a solid sense of character and maturity to this team. She made a lot of improvements in the fall and she will continue to do so in the spring. She has all of the shots and it's a matter of her putting them together when she's on the court. Volleys, serves, slices, you name it, she can do it."

A significant contributor in doubles as a freshman and a sophomore, McNicol proved in 2006-07 that her singles game is just as dominant. She finished her junior year with a 26-6 overall record, highlighted by a 13-3 mark in singles and a 9-3 clip at the No. 4 position.

Senior Kyla McNicol combined for a 26-6 overall record last season for the Knights.

"Kyla is a huge competitor and will be out there during our dual-matches firing up the rest of the team with her level of intensity," admitted Nickitas. "She is extremely dedicated to the team's success. I think everyone will feed off of her energy and enthusiasm."

Yakimchenkova has been one of the most consistent players in UCF history, as she has notched double-digit victories in singles and doubles every season. Entering the 2008 dual-match campaign, she has a 90-45 combined record on the court.

"Anna is a fierce competitor with a tremendous amount of work ethic," said Nickitas. "She is one of the hardest workers on the team and has put in a lot of work this fall on new things that we have shared with her. I'm looking forward to seeing her implement these things into her game. Her competitive spirit on the court is going to be very important, especially as our senior captain."

The junior class is made up of two tested student-athletes and one newcomer. Kenza Belbacha partnered with McNicol for most of 2007 and the duo went on to record 12 doubles wins at the No. 2 spot. Belbacha also amassed six triumphs from the No. 2 singles position.

"With Kenza, her experience will be a huge asset to the team," remarked Nickitas. "She has played in many pressure situations, and possesses all of the shots in tennis. When she plays a complete game, Kenza's opponents will have a difficult time competing against her."

Holding down the top spot in the lineup, Elvira Serrot has a 12-7 career singles record at No. 1 and an 18-12 lifetime mark at No. 1 doubles. Her 2007 performance did not go unnoticed as she was voted onto the All-Conference USA Second Team.

"Elvi is extremely talented from the baseline," said Nickitas. "She can dictate off both sides and does a great job of taking the ball early. She is an experienced player who brings a lot to the table as far as her match situations that she has been in and her knowledge of the game. I think that everybody looks up to her level of play."

A walk-on from Niceville, Fla., Adrienne Roesler earned a place in the UCF program in late September, and the Knights' head coach has been impressed with Roesler's dynamic attitude that she brought with her.

"Adrienne joined the team after the school year had already begun and has adapted extremely well," said Nickitas. "She has a strong work ethic and a high level of determination. Adrienne is also a leader in the classroom and in team activities."

A pair of freshmen round out this year's roster. Jenny Frisell ventures to Orlando from Sweden, where she collected two national championships during her career. Meanwhile, Germany native Isa Ohlinger attended The Pendleton School in Bradenton, Fla., and went on to achieve a top-30 ranking in the Sunshine State.

"Jenny and Isabel have been tremendous additions to the team," smiled Nickitas. "They have both handled the transition into college with maturity and class. We are all very excited to have them join the Knight family, and I expect both of them to make an immediate impact in the spring.

"Jenny has a great competitive spirit. She is always out there trying to run down the last ball. She has a very solid baseline game but also has the versatility to hit slice backhands and transition to the net. She should be strong in singles as well as in doubles this year.

"Isabel has been doing a great job so far and she brings a work ethic with her that coaches love. She is highly competitive and is always very focused and determined. I feel like she will make large improvements this spring."

Although Nickitas' team may have plenty of skillful artists who are hoping to post UCF's 17th-straight season with at least 11 victories, it will face numerous ranked programs along the way that will surely challenge the Knights all season long.

"We have a strong schedule and will definitely play some highly-ranked teams throughout the season," said Nickitas. "It's always been my philosophy to take care of the things you can control. You can only focus on one practice at a time and one match at a time.

"Assistant coach Jacopo Tezza and I focus on the process of improvement. We want to continue to see improvement each and every day in the spring and the matches will take care of themselves. There's a lot of excitement surrounding the upcoming season, which is all part of the journey of trying to get everybody better and getting the most out of their abilities on the court."

No matter how the dual-match schedule treats the Knights, Nickitas was certainly impressed with the way her student-athletes excelled during the fall campaign.

"I am so proud of what they have done so far and I expect that to continue through the spring." Stephanie Nickitas

"The girls worked extremely hard in the fall both on the practice courts with the coaches and in the weight room with our strength coach Dan Bessetti," acknowledged Nickitas. "They also have done well in the classroom working with their academic advisor Val Brown, earning the highest team GPA at UCF and having seven of eight players make the C-USA Academic Honor Roll. I am so proud of what they have done so far and I expect that to continue through the spring."

While this may be Nickitas' first trip as a head coach, it is pretty clear that UCF already has its program in good hands.