Folland brings overseas experience to roster
After stumbling through last season and finishing 13-12 overall and 6-7 in the conference, coach Kevin Epley and the Gamecock women’s tennis team are hoping for a much better campaign this year.
South Carolina kicks off its 2014 schedule Saturday when the team competes in two home matches, against East Tennessee State at 10 a.m. and against the College of Charleston at 3 p.m.
Epley will be especially looking to his two big hitters, senior Katerina Popova and sophomore Ximena Siles Luna.
The ending to 2013 was particularly disappointing, as the team lost its last four games, which included slip-ups against Ole Miss in the SEC tournament and Purdue in the NCAA tournament.
But despite last season’s struggles, Epley has high hopes for the upcoming season.
“I expect to build on what we were implementing last year,” Epley said. “I think we bring good doubles play to the table, and I want to continue with that.”
Junior Alex Martin is headed into her second season with the Gamecocks after spending her freshman year playing for the Texas Longhorns.
After finding most of her success in the doubles circuit last year, Martin shares her coach’s optimistic outlook for 2014.
“I think the energy is really high,” Martin said. “I think that we’ve really improved with coming together as a team and we’ve gotten a lot stronger and quicker, and I think it’s going to be a great season.”
Epley said the key to his team success isn’t what happens on the court; instead, he said he believes it lies what happens off-court.
“It’s going to be in terms of the intangibles that really make a difference,” Epley said. “In terms of work ethic, putting in extra work, taking responsibility and accountability for your game.”
Even with all the team’s improvement, Epley acknowledged how much tougher the conference is getting as a whole.
The SEC posted six teams in the NCAA’s preseason top 25.
“I think a lot of teams in this conference have gotten stronger. Ole Miss, Kentucky, Arkansas, Auburn have all gotten stronger,” Epley said. “And we’re a little stronger than last year, too.”
Epley also expects Popova and Siles Luna to take on bigger leadership roles and be more vocal in practice to help everybody else develop their game. He believes their success on the court this season is not only vital to the team’s record, but to the morale and chemistry with the other players.
“We expect them to have a lot of tough matches. All these schools in the SEC have one or two very strong players,” Epley said. “Hopefully they can get some big wins and relieve some of the pressure off the lower-seeded players.”
The Gamecocks also have an emerging star in freshman Brigit Folland, who was recently ranked No. 113 in the nation for singles — the highest of any player on the team. Hailing from the U.K., Folland was ranked as high as No. 1 in her home country.
“We’re real happy with her play in the fall. She’s highly motivated, but she’s in transition,” Epley said. “We have to see how she handles losses and how resilient she is … how she bounces back.”