2009 Women's Tennis Spring Preview

Jan. 13, 2009

Completing her first season as a collegiate head coach with a very respectable 12-9 record, Stephanie Nickitas craves more for 2009.

She brought in a recruiting class ranked as the sixth-best mid-major class in the nation, put together an exciting, yet tough schedule and has the luxury of four talented players returning to the squad.

Nickitas helps preview the upcoming season, which starts Saturday at the FGCU Tournament, with the following in-depth Q&A session.

What did you learn from your first year as a head coach, and will there be any changes to your coaching style for year number two?
Coaching is a constant learning process. Last year, I transitioned from an assistant to head coach and stepped into a larger leadership role with more responsibilities. I had to balance more aspects of the job such as recruiting, budgeting, fundraising, equipment ordering, academic concerns and of course coaching. Coaching and being on the court with the players is what I love and I want to make sure that I'm always bringing a high level of enthusiasm and motivation to practices and matches. I have very high expectations of the women and it's my job to help them maximize their potential and reach their goals. I don't think much of my style will change this year, but I will continue to push them even harder and test their limits.

How do you feel going up against some of the top teams in the country this spring, with many of those matches coming at home?
I'm very excited about our spring schedule. We are playing some tough teams both on the road and at home. I think we have a great opportunity to beat teams that will be ranked in the 20-40 range. Our ladies must believe in themselves and trust that all the hard work they have been putting in will lead to success.

Your team has been working on a new strength and conditioning program. Can you explain it and how it has helped your players?
Our strength and conditioning program is one of the best in the country. Strength coach Ben Fleming and I are constantly working together to design and adjust the program to meet the needs to top level tennis players. We have a very tennis-specific program that combines the necessary elements of lifting, plyo-metrics, interval and cardiovascular training. This training not only gives us a physical advantage and builds mental confidence, but it also teaches the players how to perform and compete when they are outside of their comfort zone.

Elvira Serrot and Kenza Belbacha are seniors this year. With four new players on the roster, how important is it for them to step up and lead this team?
Leadership from Elvi and Kenza will be an important part of this team's success. Four out of eight players are new this year, three of whom are freshmen. Our seniors need to step up in many ways to lead this team to success. Elvi and Kenza need to push the team on the courts, in the weight room, on the track and also in the classroom.

Jenny Frisell had a great freshman season. Why was she able to perform so well in her first year, and will she be back at the No. 1 spot as a sophomore?
Jenny is a true competitor that enjoys the battle. She loves to win and hates to lose. Jenny came in last fall and worked extremely hard both on the court and in the weight room and the results showed in the spring. Jenny has a tenacious work ethic and is very coachable. She is always willing to listen and learn new things. As a coach this is all you can ask for. If Jenny keeps pushing herself in the same way, she has the potential to be one of the best players in the country. As far as lineup positions, it is way too early to comment. We have a lot of depth this year and I expect there to be a battle for each of the lineup spots in both singles and doubles.

Your recruiting class was ranked pretty high in the offseason. Can you discuss what those freshman as well as junior transfer Katie Orletsky will bring to this program?
We are excited about all four of our new players and what they bring to the team. Katie played in the Pac-10 for two seasons and saw a very high level of competition. She has a strong work ethic and understands what it takes to get to the top. Katie is also a tremendous student and has shown that she knows how to balance a tough athletic schedule with her academics.

Alexis Rodriguez, Andrea Yacaman and Christy Core have transitioned wonderfully into this team. Sometimes freshmen can be a little overwhelmed with the physical and mental demands placed on them as student-athletes, but after getting through those first few weeks of feeling sore and tired, the girls are doing great. They each bring a fun and energetic attitude with them. On the court, they will strengthen our lineup and I expect them to contribute right away. These three freshmen have an amazing opportunity to build a foundation of excellence that will be expected of UCF women's tennis.