Mariners 'definitely ready'

From the The Brunswick News

Change will be the theme for College of Coastal Georgia's men's and women's tennis teams this year. The program has a new coach and enters its first year of postseason eligibility in a new conference.

Coastal hired Citadel men's tennis coach Kemper Baker last week to take over its men's and women's programs after former coach Reinaldo Valor left in December to take the same job at Savannah College of Art and Design. Baker was 5-18 with the Bulldogs last season.

Coastal assistant coach Steve Howard is impressed with what Baker will bring to the program.

"Just talking to him and reading some of his background, he is a well-established coach," Howard said. "He knows what is going on on the court and in college tennis. He's going to be a big asset."

The Mariner squads begin their season this weekend with the Coastal men hosting, ironically, The Citadel on Friday. Howard will lead Coastal against the Citadel men and will coach both CCGA squads at a weekend tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla. Baker will take over the head duties beginning next week.

"We're definitely ready for the season," Howard said. "The players have practiced really hard this year. We had a couple of setbacks last semester in having a couple of tournaments that we couldn't make it to, but they are practicing hard and ready for the season to kick off."

The Southern States Athletic Conference has nine schools that play men's tennis and 10 schools that compete in women's tennis, with five schools ranked in the top 25 in each poll.

Conference foe Auburn-Montgomery is the defending National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics women's tennis national champion and enters the spring ranked No. 1 in the country. Brenau is right on Auburn-Montgomery's heels at No. 3 while Lee University is ranked 15th in the women's preseason poll.

All three schools are in the SSAC's East division with the Coastal women.

"This is the year that everything counts," Howard said. "Last year was our probationary period. With Shorter being out of the league, we have a few competitive teams with Auburn-Montgomery and Lee University. We had a tight loss to Auburn-Montgomery last year, and we had a tight win over Lee last year. Those are going to be the ones that dictate where we stand in the division. It's a very competitive division."

On the men's side, Auburn-Montgomery is ranked second in the country heading into the new season. The Coastal men enter the year ranked 23rd in the NAIA poll, ahead of 25th-ranked Lee, but behind Western division conference foes William Carey (No. 6) and Belhaven (No. 12).

"We're expecting a really competitive season," Howard said of the men's team. "Most of our guys are coming back, and everybody's been training really hard."

The Mariner men return six players from a season ago, with Derrick Taylor the only significant loss. Taylor, a co-captain last year, transferred to be closer to hometown of Cochran.

Returnees for the Mariners include juniors Louis Volclair, Leif Shuman, Malhar Mali, Connor Bond and sophomores Robin Lucas and Alejandro Aquilino. Volclair was Coastal's No. 1 singles player last year.

"Louis is a fighter," Howard said. "That's all he is, a big fighter. He knows how to play the big points and never gets nervous or rattled. He just has that 'I'm not going to lose mentality,' and he helps out on the practice courts because he riles everybody up. He makes them mad because he makes sure he gets a racket on everything. He does not let a ball get past him."

Newcomer Jose Zaatini, a transfer from Vincennes University in Indiana, is also expected to contribute for the Coastal men.

The Coastal women return four members, led by junior Sunshine Beba. Howard said Beba has been more aggressive on the court during the summer and fall.

"She's a nice girl off the court and will help you out at any cost, and on the court we've had to push her to be more aggressive," Howard said. "She's being a lot more aggressive with short balls. She's worked a lot on her serve because she's a shorter player, and making sure she gets up for the serve and not letting her height affect her.

"She's a good, scrappy player. She runs a lot of balls down, and we're just trying to get her to where when she has her opportunities, to step up and change the point in her favor."

Also returning for the Mariner women are juniors Elektra Hunter and Luisa Lopes and sophomore Kristina Polakovic. Lopes is back after missing all of last season with an ankle injury.

"A big thing that's going to help us out is Luisa coming back," Howard said. "She's been training hard since the summer, and she's ready to get out there as well."

Joining the squad this season are freshman Taylor Ballard from Parkview High, freshman Nicole Faas from Switzerland and junior Priti Rijal, a transfer from North Central Texas College and a native of Kathmandu, Nepal.

The Coastal women did lose Victoria Holloway off last season's squad. The Glynn Academy graduate stepped away from the sport to focus on her studies.

"She was a great contributor to us last year and will be missed," Howard said.

Last year, the Mariner squads were playing for pride. This year, Howard said being able to play for a championship changes the team's motivation.

"Last year, we played a couple of good (NCAA) Division II teams, a D-I team and a D-III team," Howard said. "It's changed everything knowing that we can go out and compete and everything counts. We're trying to put a conference title in CCGA's possession for the first year in the NAIA."

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Release Date: 2/4/2013
Source: The Brunswick News

By BUDDY HUGHES