Last year, SHU ended a five-year postseason drought by earning a bid to the BIG EAST Tournament while Chloe Sher (Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong) became the first Pirate to earn All-BIG EAST Women's Tennis Team honors. Entering his sixth season, head coach Greg Wyzykowski believes this year's squad is more than capable of continuing to elevate the program towards becoming a consistent power within the conference and region.
"This could be the deepest lineup we have had since I have been here," said Wyzykowski. "What that does is, not only can we field a stronger lineup in tournaments and matches, but it keeps some pressure on the girls in practice as well. They push each other and it forces everyone to raise their games because they know that no one's spot is safe from match to match."
Two new additions that have added depth to the squad are freshmen Julia Keenan (Greenland, N.H.) and Alex Landert (Naples, Fla.), both of whom have come to South Orange following distinguished high school careers.
Keenan joins the Pirates after an unprecedented run of success at St. Thomas Aquinas, finishing a four-year varsity career without a single blemish on her singles or doubles record. Last spring, she became New Hampshire's first four-time singles champion, adding that distinction to a ledger that already included two doubles and two team state crowns. At the culmination of an immaculate run, Keenan was named 2012 New Hampshire Player of the Year and graduated as the #1 ranked player in the state.
A five-star recruit that was rated as high as 66th nationally and 10th in a talent-rich player pool in the state of Florida; Landert has also displayed the ability that could enable her to be an instant contributor in her debut season. A native of Zurich, Switzerland, she put together an impressive junior resume, winning four national tournaments before moving to the United States and spending her senior year at Naples High School.
"Julia and Alex can definitely step in and play a large role for us from the start," Wyzykowski said. "They are both talented players whose most immediate impact will probably be on the doubles court. Both girls have a skill set that suits doubles tennis well and that should translate into improved results for us. I am excited about the prospect of being able to feature three really quality pairs this year and they are a big part of that."
Keenan and Landert will look to follow in the footsteps of sophomores Anna Guryanova (Moscow, Russia), Maria Rodriguez (Bogota, Colombia) and Madison Shoemaker (Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia) who all played prominent roles for the Pirates last season during their freshmen campaigns.
Guryanova came out on top nearly 65 percent of her singles appearances last season. She also teamed with Rodriguez to post a winning doubles record as part of a pair that recorded the second most doubles wins for SHU in 2011-12. Rodriguez also had her own measure of singles success, defeating Guryanova to win the D flight title at the Quinnipiac Invitational and finishing the year with more wins than any Pirate not named Chloe Sher.
Shoemaker also contributed to the team's ascent, ranking third on the team with eight wins during the spring season. She also frequently teamed with graduated senior Elizabeth Verow to form the squad's #2 doubles tandem. Together, Shoemaker and Verow qualified for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Regional Tournament in the fall and secured several key dual match victories, helping the Pirates secure an elusive berth in the conference tournament.
"Nothing our sophomores go up against this year is going to surprise them," Wyzykowski stated. "I think with a year of experience under their belts, they know what is expected of them and are all ready to take the next step for us. Right now, I see Maddy teaming with Julia to form one of our better doubles duos. Anna and Maria have proven that they can be contributors and having them available is going to make us a difficult team to contend with."
While the team will enjoy the benefits associated with added depth, Sher and classmate Rocio Portela (Demetrio Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) will once again play the protagonists for the Pirates. Entering their third season in blue and white, Portela and Sher have already established themselves as the most prolific doubles pair in Seton Hall history. Following an unparalleled run of 13-straight wins to start the season, only a stumble in the team's final match against Syracuse kept Portela and Sher from posting a perfect spring record. Along the way, the dynamic tandem set a new school record for doubles wins in a single season and surpassed the previous all-time mark for most wins by a Seton Hall doubles team.
A trip to the singles court did little to suppress Sher's dominance in 2011-12. The Hong Kong native completed the year with an 8-1 record against BIG EAST opponents on her way to a second consecutive 20-win season from the #1 singles position. The junior also asserted herself as a regional power by compiling a 4-1 record against opponents ranked either regionally or nationally. At the end of the season, Sher climbed to the #16 spot in the final ITA Northeast region poll of the year.
"When it comes to Chloe, I think she might have a little bit of a target on her back this year because she's definitely not a secret anymore," Wyzykowski said. "The key for her is going to be performing her best every time out. She is a great athlete who has really been adding to her game since last year, so I believe she will be up for the mental and physical challenges ahead of her."
An unquestioned talent, injuries have slowed Portela somewhat throughout her first two years. Along with teaming with Sher to establish a level of doubles prowess unmatched in program history, the Puerto Rico native has consistently been penciled in as the team's #2 singles player. Portela battled her way to several victories over her freshman and sophomore campaigns, but Seton Hall's head man believes she is poised to take a giant leap forward as a junior this year.
"Rocio has worked incredibly hard over the summer," Wyzykowski revealed. "She has dealt with some injury issues and I think that sparked a recommitment to strength and conditioning that should pay off in a big way for her and subsequently our team. I truly believe that this will be the year we see Rocio's ability start to translate into the type of results I know she is capable of."
Senior Karina Cordero (Maracay Estado Aragua, Venezuela) rounds out the 2012-13 squad. An extremely experienced player who has been a consistent force in the Pirates' lineup throughout her career, Cordero will be assuming a new role as team captain. As a junior, she posted a perfect singles record in the fall and took home the C flight singles title from the Quinnipiac Invitational. At the same tournament, she teamed with her former partner Courtney Kilarski to capture the B flight doubles hardware.
As the lone senior in this year's lineup Coach Wyzykowski believes Cordero's leadership will be a vital component of the Pirates' success this season.
"Karina has already shown she has what it takes to be an effective leader for us," said Wyzykowski. "She has displayed a willingness to do whatever the team needs and has transitioned nicely into her new role. In terms of her game, I have also seen marked improvement there as well. She has an energy that has been infectious and I believe she will have her best year this season and continue to push the team as we progress through our schedule."
The 2012 fall schedule features four tournament dates as well as a home dual match against Fairleigh Dickinson on Tuesday, October 16. The Pirates will make trips to Quinnipiac and Navy for the second consecutive year before participating in the USTA Collegiate Invitational at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y. Following the head-to-head matchup with FDU, Seton Hall will close the fall at the ITA Regional Tournament.
"The fall season is important for us because it gives the girls a chance to go out there and compete against someone else," said Wyzykowski. "Our team understands the importance of these tournaments because their performance carries heavy implications in terms of seeding in future tournaments, rankings and who gets an invitation to the ITAs. I'm looking for us to go out there, compete well and continue to produce strong results. How we play in the fall will also help shape our lineup for the spring."
"I'm glad that I was able to schedule a dual match again this fall as well," Wyzykowski continued. "The thought process there is two-fold. It is an opportunity to test our lineup while giving the team a chance to experience the head-to-head format prior to the spring season. It also helps us avoid a long layoff and keeps the team sharp as we gear up for the ITA Regionals. All in all, I'm excited and I think the team is too. The team is dedicated, having fun, and we are all looking forward to another good year."
The Pirates will get their first taste of action this season when the Quinnipiac Invitational kicks off tomorrow, Friday, September 14th in Hamden, Conn. Play at the three-day tournament will continue through Sunday, September 16th.