The Daily Gamecock

Women's tennis looks to snap losing streak

Gamecocks host LSU, Arkansas over weekend

The South Carolina women’s tennis team will look to snap a six-match losing streak when it hosts No. 55 LSU and No. 46 Arkansas this weekend.

The Gamecocks are 10-8 overall and have not won since their SEC opener against Missouri in February.

Despite the skid, No. 56 South Carolina has been competitive in recent matches. The task was tall this past weekend as they visited top-20 opponents Alabama and Auburn, but the Gamecocks kept it interesting. Overall, head coach Kevin Epley says his team has been playing better as of late.

“I would say this is the first weekend that everybody competed really hard,” Epley said. “We have some young people on the team, and our culture is still being established.”

South Carolina’s weekend was capped by a 4-1 loss to the Tigers in a match that lasted over four hours. Down the doubles point, junior Meghan Blevins delivered a straight-set victory out of the No. 4 spot to even the score. After senior Katerina Popova fell in straight sets, she and Blevins watched as the other four singles matches spilled into third sets.

The Gamecocks were defeated after dropping two third sets, but were in position to win the other two matches still on court.

In Friday’s match, junior Elixane Lechemia and senior Dominika Kanakova went to a tiebreaker in the deciding doubles match against the No. 8 tandem in the nation. The South Carolina duo dropped an extended tiebreaker 9-7 to give Alabama the early advantage. Lechemia served as the bright spot in singles, giving the Gamecocks their only point of the day with a straight-set victory over No. 58 Mary Anne Daines.

As South Carolina prepares to take on the back half of its conference schedule, Epley can only hope that the tenacity his team has played with recently will spark a second-half surge.

“This is the time of the year where people start to get a little frazzled,” Epley said. “Hopes are this is the time of year we start gaining momentum.”

Of South Carolina’s six SEC losses, five are against teams currently in the top 20. Friday’s match against LSU (9-8, 2-6 SEC) will start a stretch of five consecutive matches against teams outside the top 25 before finishing the regular season against No. 10 Vanderbilt. Arkansas, meanwhile, enters the weekend at 2-6 in the SEC and 12-10 overall.

Although three of the Gamecocks’ next four opponents — including both this weekend — are in the bottom half of the SEC standings, Epley says that should not alter his team’s approach.

“This is the SEC, and there no free matches,” Epley said. “Everybody’s going to come out competing hard, and they need the wins just as bad as we do.”

Mired in an uncharacteristic slump with a significantly younger team than ones in years past, Epley hopes the high expectations that have been placed on his program do not affect his players’ growth and mental toughness.

“We just have to focus on the process of getting better week-to-week and adjusting and just trust that one of these matches is gonna fall our way,” he said.