January 21, 2011

Women’s Tennis Poised for Busy Opening Weekend

Eagle women play three matches in two days to kick off 2011 season

The Eastern Washington University women's tennis team begins its 2011 season this weekend with three matches in two days. The Eagles play at Whitworth on Saturday (Jan. 22) and then host Seattle and Whitman in a doubleheader on Sunday (Jan. 23) at the indoor tennis courts at the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse.

"We are definitely excited to get our season underway," said EWU associate head women's coach Dale Silha. "The girls are pretty sick of playing each other. We are ready to face some outside competition."

Eastern competed in three tournaments during the fall season, but were shorthanded in each due to some early-season injuries. That should not be a problem this weekend, as the team has spent the last few months getting everyone fit for the debut.

"We had to battle quite a few injuries in the fall," said Silha. "We went down to the tournament in Santa Barbara with only four of our 10 players, so getting healthy has really been our top priority. We are happy to say most everyone on the team is back at 100 percent. We have had two weeks of really solid practices, and are eager to get out there for some real competition."

Following this weekend's events, the Eagles will have three more matches before the end of January. Eastern will take on Gonzaga in a mid-week match on Wednesday (Jan. 26), and then travel to the Palouse for a doubleheader with Washington State and Lewis-Clark State on Friday (Jan. 28).

Eagles in the Middle of Pack According Big Sky Preseason Coaches Poll

The Eagle women were selected fifth in the 2011 Big Sky Preseason coaches poll. EWU garnered 36 points in the poll to finish behind unanimous favorite Sacramento State (64), second-place Northern Arizona (55) and Montana (52) and Montana State (38).

Eastern's preseason ranking seemed quite fit considering the Eagles have finished fifth in the conference in each of the last two seasons. EWU earned a 4-4 league record in both 2009 and 2010. With the BSC tournament field being reduced from six to four in the 2010 season, Eastern just missed the cut for postseason competition. The Eagles are hopeful they can do what it takes this year to earn one of those coveted top four spots.

"I would say our fifth-place ranking is pretty accurate here in the preseason," said Silha. "But we definitely have the potential to be one of the top four teams. It will all boil down to a few key matches."

Those crucial matches lie with the two foes in the Treasure State. Last season, the Eagles fell to Montana and Montana State by a close 4-3 margin. Eastern won the doubles point against the Bobcats, but couldn't outlast them in singles, as MSU clinched in a third-set tiebreaker at No. 5. Three of the six singles matches against Montana also went to three sets.

2011 Season Outlook

Having lost only one player after the 2010 season, Eastern will enjoy an experienced lineup in the 2011 campaign. The Eagles welcomed back eight players, five of whom saw significant action in the top six last year. Silha also added two new faces to round out his talented 10-person roster.

Among the list of returners is junior Caitlin Bampton, who earned a 9-11 record playing at No. 1 singles last season. Bampton was sidelined for much of the fall due to injury, but has worked hard on her rehabilitation the last few months.

"Caitlin is probably the one player who is still recovering a little from her injuries," said Silha. "She is at about 75 percent right now. She is just working on building her strength and getting back into tennis shape. She will see limited action early on in the season, but we are confident she will be back at full ability by the time conference play starts."

Another top returner for Eastern is sophomore Kelsey Knight, who was one of only two starters to have a winning record in 2010. The Folsom, Calif., native finished 11-10 in singles play, which included five victories in Big Sky action.

Knight also saw a great deal of success in doubles, as she teamed up with Bampton to garner an impressive 10-3 overall record at the No. 1 spot. The duo won five conferences matches throughout the year and closed out their season with four-consecutive wins.

"We should be very strong in doubles this season," projected Silha. "We are excited to have our No. 1 pair back in Kelsey and Caitlin. The two played extremely well together last year, and we expect them to pick up some big wins for us this season as well."

"We have also seen some promising combinations for the two and three spots. We will probably mix things up a little in these early-season matches to see who gels the best, but I would certainly be confident with any pair we put out there."

During the fall season, sophomore Ryann Warner emerged as another definite leader on the squad. At the Cougar Classic on Sept. 24-26, Warner was the only Eagle to advance to the second round of the competitive crimson bracket after she beat Gonzaga's Sophie Lantta, 6-4, 6-2.

During the 2010 season, Warner played primarily at the No. 6 singles, earning an overall record of 11-9. Besides Knight, Warner was the only Eagle to have a winning record on the year.

"Both Ryann and Kelsey looked really strong during the fall," commended Silha. "Their fitness levels were much higher than last season, which enabled them to stay aggressive throughout entire matches."

 "We expect Ryann to do some damage this year with her big, aggressive ground stroke game."

Another up and coming player for the Eagles is sophomore Chelsea Patton, who played in all 21 of Eastern's matches at both the No. 4 and No. 5 singles spot last season. She was one of three players to record 10 wins, five of which came in conference play.

"Chelsea worked really hard on her game last year and during the fall season this year," said Silha. "She has a really big serve and a great volley."

The Eagles added more depth to its roster with the addition of newcomers Nefeli Diamanti and Helon Ricks. Diamanti is a transfer from CSU-Bakersfield, while Ricks comes in as a freshman from Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Ark.

Diamanti was the No. 1 player for the Roadrunners during the 2010 season. She had five wins in singles play and four in doubles.

"Nefeli has a really aggressive game, and works super hard on the court," praised Silha. "For her, it's about staying focused through the match and working every point. If she can do that, she has the ability to beat a lot of players."

Ricks comes to Eastern after a very successful prep career. She helped her high school team capture the 5A Arkansas state title in 2006, 2007 and 2009. Ricks won the individual title in 2006 and was a finalist in 2007 and 2008. She also played on the USTA junior competitive circuit, where she ranked as high as 49th in the southern section in both singles and doubles.

"Helon is a really gritty player," said Silha. "She is smart on the court and keeps a lot of balls in play. She really makes people beat her. As a freshman, we believe Helon is going to do really, really well for us."

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