FLORENCE, S.C. – The nationally ranked Francis Marion University men’s and women’s tennis teams will open their 2002 schedules on Sunday (Feb. 3) when the Patriots host South Carolina State University.
The men’s and women’s matches will both begin at 10 a.m. on the Kassab Courts, located next to the Smith University Center. Admission is free.
The FMU men are ranked ninth in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association Top 30, while the Patriot women are ranked 29th.
Patriot head coach Garth Thomson welcomes back seven of nine letterwinners from the 2001 men’s team that finished 13-10 with a No. 9 national ranking, earned a bid to the NCAA Division II tournament for the seventh consecutive year, and advanced to the Division II “Sweet 16” for the third time in four seasons.
Leading the returning men are senior Laszlo Leiter and the two-time All-American doubles team of senior Mark Bube and junior Sollie Nortje. Bube and Nortje ended last season ranked eighth nationally in doubles with a 19-8 mark. Over the past two seasons, the duo has gone 36-12 in doubles competition. Leiter finished 2001 ranked 27th nationally in singles with a 22-9 record (at No. 2 singles), while Bube (13-13 at No. 1 singles) was ranked 35th.
“I am looking for a lot of good things to happen for the men this spring,” Thomson said. “Its great to be ranked No.9, but we still must prove our worth on the courts. The players who are the heart and soul of the program return with lots of experience. With a tough schedule in place this spring, we will be able to gauge how good we are on the national level.
“Our goal is finish in the top three of the rugged Peach Belt Conference (five teams are ranked in the Top 30) and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Once in the tournament, we want to return to the ‘Sweet 16’ and challenge for a national title.”
Thomson also expects to receive help from newcomers Chris Gessner (Tucson, Ariz.) and Danny Cordrey (Harare, Zimbabwe), both of whom will likely fill spots in the Patriot lineup. Two local products, Robert Hill (The Byrnes Schools) and Will Raines (West Florence High School), have also joined the program.
Four of seven letterwinners from the 2001 women’s team return. Despite a 4-13 mark last season, the Patriot women were still ranked 19th in the South Regional poll. After making the NCAA tournament for five straight years, the Patriots have missed earning a bid each of the past two seasons.
This year, the Patriot women must attempt to replace four-time All-American Annamaria Atamanuik, who posted a 17-5 record playing No. 1 singles in 2001 and ended her career at FMU with an 82-12 singles mark. “You don’t replace someone like Annamaria, you try and mold a team that makes up for her loss with overall strength from top to bottom,” Thomson said.
“I have brought in two transfers – junior Ana Carias from Newberry College and sophomore Maria Ava-Lallemant from Florida Atlantic University – who both have the potential to rank in the Top 40 in Division II singles and should give us a strong one-two punch at the top of our lineup.”
Seniors Kristen Kern and Stefanie Schaller and sophomores Stephanie Bush and Lillian Jamieson constitute the returnees. Thomson has also added McBee High School product Kim McCoy to the FMU program.
Thomson added, “Facing an extremely tough schedule, the women’s goal is to post a winning record, and that alone should give us an excellent shot at a national tournament berth. We want to lay a foundation for a solid team effort and then build on that.” Seven PBC women’s programs are currently ranked in the Top 30.