The Daily Gamecock

Women’s tennis to face Vanderbilt, Kentucky

Elixane Lechemia honored as Player of the Week

As a coach, Kevin Epley emphasizes the value of improving in different facets of the game every week. For the first time, he believes his team has consistently done just that.

“This is the year where I can say that we’ve actually gotten better every single week,” Epley said. “That is a testament to the hard work they are putting in.”

After defeating Ole Miss Sunday, the South Carolina women’s tennis team extended its winning streak to four in a row. The Gamecocks will take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, Tenn., Friday before playing Kentucky Sunday.

Junior Elixane Lechemia was instrumental in the Gamecocks’ win over the Rebels. Epley, who has stressed having a positive and aggressive attitude both on and off the court, felt Lechemia made strides last weekend.

The junior was named SEC Player of the Week after winning both of the singles matches she played. She and freshman Ximena Siles Luna won their doubles match against the Rebels.

“She made a commitment to come out aggressive and have a great attitude for singles at Ole Miss,” Epley said.

After faltering early in doubles, the Gamecocks rallied to take the point, and they rode that momentum into singles.

“I think that was one of the few matches where we were winning on every court right off the bat,” Epley said.

Epley said he feels his team is capable and ready to finish strong. He pointed to South Carolina’s loss to Alabama on March 24 as the turning point in the season.

“We saw Alabama and what they brought as far as energy goes,” he said. “They became the benchmark for the rest of the season. I think it kind of clicked for everyone.”

Since that match, the staff has emphasized the importance of developing and maintaining a high-energy level both on and off the court. In light of the victory over Ole Miss, Epley feels players like Lechemia have taken his message to heart in recent weeks.

Epley said regardless of the season’s flow and the wins and losses, the most important thing for his team to do is simply take ownership and come together as a unit. Thus far, he has been encouraged by the result.

As the team looks forward to Vanderbilt, Epley said the group is focused on fundamentals and improving each day. The Commodores are ranked fifth in the SEC East, right behind South Carolina. According to Epley, Vanderbilt is a young but talented team.

“I think we can catch them with their inexperience,” he said.

Despite the Gamecocks’ winning streak, Epley stressed the importance of not letting the feeling of entitlement or invincibility creep in.

“We have had some wins and gone up in the rankings a little bit, but that doesn’t mean we are not vulnerable,” he said. “We really got to come together as a team. Everybody has got to be committed to compete for the entire duration of the match.”

This weekend’s matches will wrap up South Carolina’s regular season. The team will compete at the SEC Tournament next week.