With six total titles in four tournaments, improved doubles results and four selections to the ITA Northeast Regionals, the Pirates did just that.
"In the fall, we try to use the early tournaments as stepping stones," said head coach Greg Wyzykowski. "For the second year in a row, we were able to win multiple championships at Quinnipiac, and then we followed it up with three more against stronger competition at the Navy Tournament. That shows that we are getting closer to where we want to be as a program."
The Pirates welcomed two newcomers to the mix prior to the new season as freshmen Julia Keenan (Greenland, N.H.) and Alex Landert (Naples, Fla.) joined the squad. Both immediately impressed in their first two months of collegiate competition, producing a number of noteworthy performances.
After starring for four years for St. Thomas Aquinas and putting together one of the most prolific high school careers in New Hampshire state history, Keenan burst onto the scene by capturing singles titles in her first two tournaments. At the Quinnipiac Invitational, she capped a three-match run by defeating BIG EAST foe Karen Ramirez of Providence to earn the C flight championship. She then extended her winning-streak to seven to start her career, culminating with a victory over Towson's Andrea Samlin in the C flight final at the Bill and Sandra Moore Invitational. After two more wins at the USTA Collegiate Invitational and a point-scoring victory in SHU's dual match with Fairleigh Dickinson, Keenan stands as the team leader in singles wins with 10 and has dropped only two sets in 11 matches at the end of the fall.
"Our freshmen have done a great job coming in and having an immediate impact," said Wyzykowski. "Julia has great energy and a great attitude. She is a very skilled doubles player and has instantly made us better in that phase. She's also done a superb job in singles and has shown that she is ready to be a big part of our team right now."
"Alex has displayed a tremendous fighting spirit already in her short time here," Wyzykowski continued. "She has come out on top in a number of three-set matches and has shown flashes of her ability. Alex has tremendous upside and though her results this fall were strong, she is going to be even more dangerous for us when she becomes more comfortable and consistent."
Seton Hall's trio of sophomores also displayed marked improvement in their second fall season. Anna Guryanova (Moscow, Russia), Maria Rodriguez (Bogota, Colombia) and Madison Shoemaker (Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia) have all posted at least eight singles wins, while playing to a collective .781 winning percentage.
Guryanova has powered through her first 11 matches, recording the second-highest win total on the team with nine, eight of which have come in straight sets. At the Quinnipiac Invitational, she was a repeat finalist in the D flight, where she was bested only by Rodriguez for the second year in a row. The highlight of her fall slate came the next week when at the Bill and Sandra Moore Invitational, she won four matches in a row to earn her first-career championship. Guryanova goes into the break on a high-note after winning her last two matches at the USTA Collegiate Invitational.
"Anna has been a tremendous competitor for us this year," praised Wyzykowski. "She has been working extremely hard in practice and in her matches to earn a spot in the lineup when the spring comes. Anna has a wide array of weapons in her game and she has displayed a commitment to improving. Her results have reflected her dedication."
"Maria has been one of our most consistent players," said Wyzykowski. "She comes ready to work every day and she has been able to do some nice things on the court for us so far this year. Maria possesses a great skill set and we are working on a few slight changes to allow her to better utilize those skills. Once she takes that into competition, she is going to be even tougher to beat.
In doubles, Shoemaker paired with Julia Keenan to tie for the team-high in wins with six victories in 10 outings. At the USTA tournament, Keenan and Shoemaker put together three wins in a row to become the first Seton Hall team to reach a final at the event. The pair of underclassmen also emerged victorious from their number two doubles match against Fairleigh Dickinson and competed amongst the best teams in the region at the ITA Tournament.
"Madi had a super couple months," said Wyzykowski. "Playing with Julia, those two have provided a huge boost for us in doubles and I think we are a more formidable team because of what they bring to the table. As the more experienced player on that team, she is also learning how to take charge and become a leader. She has also shown that she has the skills to be a factor against tough opponents if she plays with confidence."
Keenan and Shoemaker's six wins were matched by the junior twosome of Rocio Portela (Demetrio Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) and Chloe Sher (Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong). Early in the season, Portela has continued to show the form that helped her team with Sher to climb to the top of SHU's all-time doubles wins list before their sophomore year was completed. After suffering a loss in their first match, Portela and Sher ran off five consecutive victories, a streak that ended with them holding the trophy as A flight champions at the Bill and Sandra Moore Invitational.
"Rocio and Chloe continue to be a huge part of what we want to do as a team," said Wyzykowski. "Throughout the fall, they showed what makes them so tough to beat when they are on their game. I look for them to be more consistent when we get into the spring and we are competing on a regular basis."
Last weekend, Portela participated in the ITA Regional Tournament in both singles and doubles for the third consecutive year. A constant presence near the top of the Pirates' lineup, Portela concluded the fall by rounding into the form that has made her one of SHU's most impactful players over the last two years.
"Rocio has been battling for us all season against some really strong competition," Wyzykowski said. "Her last three matches especially were hard fought and she is very close to breaking through and racking up the kind of results we know she is capable of."
As an individual, Sher picked up where she left off last season after becoming the first Pirate named to the All-BIG EAST Women's Tennis Team. She kicked off the fall with wins in her first six matches, taking home the A flight title from Quinnipiac and reaching another championship match at the Bill and Sandra Moore Invitational. With eight victories already to her credit, including a triumph over FDU's Anna Rapoport (#110 in the nation), Sher is well on her way to a third-straight 20-win season and will begin the spring just three shy of cracking the school's top-10 list for most singles wins.
"Prior to the season, I spoke with Chloe about becoming one of the best players in the region, and the nation," Wyzykowski continued. "Typically she gets off to a slow start; then is able to put it all together in the spring. What has been encouraging about the last few weeks is that, like she did in her win over Rutgers [Vanessa Petrini] at the USTAs, she is learning to win when she is not necessarily at her best. That is what it takes to compete with the top players."
Karina Cordero (Maracay Estado Aragua, Venezuela) is the lone senior on the squad and completed her first few months as team captain. On the court, she advanced to the B flight semifinals at the Quinnipiac Invitational, followed by an appearance in the quarterfinals at the Bill and Sandra Moore Invitational. On a team with five underclassmen however, her role has extended way beyond the baseline. According to her coach, Cordero has been at the head of a shift in demeanor within the program that has the Pirates poised to reach new heights come the spring.
"Karina has been a great leader and example within our program this year," Wyzykowski said. "In preseason, she came in with a renewed commitment and she has continued to push herself in an effort to make her last season her best one. I think it's fair to say that mentality has trickled down to our whole team. Our girls are not just concerned with their own individual results; they are invested in each other's success and have shown a desire to elevate the program as a whole."
While all teams will receive a bid to the 2013 BIG EAST Championship, the team's goals remain the same entering the winter. The underlying theme of continued improvement remains and with the experience of last year's tournament under their belts, the Pirates will look to take the next step towards earning conference power status.
"Now that we have been to the BIG EAST Championships, our focus has shifted more towards advancing further once we are there," stated Wyzykowski. "I think that is going to help us throughout our spring season because now we will be fighting with an eye on a earning a better seed. Our spring schedule will feature a nice blend of competition that should get us prepared to be where we want to be towards the end. I told the team, we're knocking on the door of earning the type of respect we have been shooting for,. Now it's time for us to do what we need to do to take a seat at the table."