Women's Tennis Opens Season this Weekend
by Justin Anderson, FGCU Athletics
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Florida Gulf Coast University women’s tennis season opens this weekend with a match Saturday morning at Webber International. The Eagles will continue on the road next Saturday and face NAIA power Embry-Riddle, and then finish the weekend off with an exhibition match against Hillsborough Community College.
The Eagles have 17 matches this spring, including 11 home matches and 10 matches against NCAA Division II South Region competition. Head coach J. Webb Horton is entering his first season as the women’s head coach following the retirement of inaugural head coach Fred Drilling after the 2005 season. Coach Horton has led the men’s tennis team to a record of 77-24 over the last five seasons.
When asked about taking over the women’s team, Horton said, “It’s exciting to take on such a challenging task, as I know the women want to do extremely well this year”.
Going to the NCAA tournament this year will be an arduous task for the Eagles. Although the Eagles are ranked #22 in Division II, FGCU will face six of the top-25 nationally-ranked teams in Division II. Four of these opponents are ranked in the top-10 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division II rankings.
After concluding a difficult opening road trip, the Eagles will host regional rival #5 Lynn in their home opener on February 23 at the FGCU Tennis Complex. Other regional action visiting FGCU this spring includes #24 Eckerd, #20 Florida Southern, #3 Barry, and #7 Rollins. The Eagles daunting schedule also includes a trip to #1 Armstrong Atlantic, the defending national champion.
“We have a hard schedule but our hope is to be in the top-20 at season’s end,” said Horton. “But to get better we need to play the top teams. If we can beat the teams we should beat and pull out a few surprise victories, we should be alright.”
2006 FGCU Women’s Tennis Outlook
The Eagles open this year’s season with a #22 ranking, their highest ranking ever in Division II. But for whom much is given, much is expected. The Eagles will have to constantly battle to maintain a spot in the top-25 rankings. With so many of the Eagles regional opponents ranked ahead of them, a trip to the NCAA tournament this year may be a long shot. Coach Horton is optimistic heading into the season. “With discipline and hard work, we should do well for ourselves despite the tough schedule”.
Sophomore Maria Maggiorini (Buenos Aires, Argentina), junior Jonalea Hileman (Fort Worth, Tex), and junior Krista Polulak (Sarasota, Fla.) are among those returning who provide solid stability to this year’s lineup.
Seniors Tenille Elias (Port of Spain, Trinidad), Kristin Foelgner (St. Petersburg, Fla.), and Stephanie Oldock (Naples, Fla.) bring a wealth of leadership to the team’s younger players. The veterans have won with the team during less trying times and are expected to pass on their winning ways.
Freshmen Jessie Franklin (Boca Raton, Fla.) and Joanne Power (Ireland) will benefit the most from senior leadership. Franklin and Power bring a fresh energy to the team and are expected to develop nicely. Sophomores Brett Kinley (Boynton Beach, Fla.) and Lesley Anne Passolt (Plymouth, MN) have experienced a season of play, and are looking to improve upon their skills this season.
The Eagles welcome two new college transfers this year: sophomores Maria Braniecka (Piotrowek, Poland) and Lydia Diaz Galindo (Seville, Spain). Braniecka joins the team from Division I Southern Methodist University, while Galindo is coming from perennial Division II contender Valdosta State. Braniecka is expected to play high in the line up. “She brings a lot to the table,” said Coach Horton when asked about Braniecka. Galindo also brings proven ability to the team, as she was #6 as a freshman on a Valdosta State team which was ranked number three in the nation last year.
“We have to work hard and do a lot of things right for us to continue on our path of success,” mused Coach Horton. “If we can do those things, we should go out and have a very productive season.