By ELENA DE ALFREDO
The Spartans played three nationally ranked teams in their season opener last week: Florida Tech, Florida Southern and Saint Petersburg College. UT earned the highest winning percentage of the matches as they finished with a 19-10 overall record, and also won eight of the nine double matches played.
Freshman Ava Sowell and sophomore Maddie Stephens went undefeated for the weekend, each winning three double and three single matches.
“Our team this year is simply stronger,” head coach Al DuFaux said. “We have great team harmony and all the girls get along really well.”
UT started their pre-season workouts on Jan. 17 and prior to their opening weekend, the Spartans obtained their first win of the year in a scrimmage against Hillsborough Community College on Friday Jan. 27 with a 7-3 score.
With his 18th year under his belt as the head women’s tennis coach, DuFaux has plenty of confidence in his team to continue with the progress from last campaigns.
According to the Tampa Athletics site, tampaspartans.com, in three of the last four seasons under DuFaux, the Spartans were nationally ranked each year.
The team is set to play in one of the toughest conferences nationwide. The Sunshine State Conference (SSC) has 11 teams, 10 of which are usually nationally ranked. Also, in Division II women’s tennis, only 50 teams are ranked out of 230 total teams in the nation.
The Spartans finished their 2015-16 season with a 7-10 overall record after a tough schedule. UT faced four of the top 10 best teams in DII and one DI school, Seton Hall.
Based on the results from last season, the SSC the 2017 pre-season women’s tennis coaches poll released on Jan. 25, where UT received a total of 15 votes to land in the eighth spot out of the nine teams that form part of the SSC. Despite their position, the Spartans are looking to improve last year’s record, leaning on experience and hard work.
“We learned how to get the most out of each other both within matches and practice,” junior player Emily Hewland said. “Last year we had a young team that had a lot of potential and we learned from close matches.”
The team improved its strength as they return five players to the roster and added two new freshmen and one transfer from a DI school. This last one, Caroline Lozo, a Tampa native, will be playing No. 1 or No. 2 for the Spartans, as she was top 10 in Florida and the No. 1 tennis player in the Tampa Bay area in her senior year of high school.
Freshman tennis player Ava Sowell, native of Clearwater who just enrolled at UT this spring, is also going to be in the starting lineup.
“These two additions to last year’s lineup will push us down [the rotation adding depth], which will already make us stronger,” DuFaux said. “We also have great double combinations.”
As a boost of confidence from the results from this weekend, the Spartans are thrilled to face this new season’s challenges. The team’s motivation is to reach their full potential even though the road is not easy. Their team chemistry, work ethic and experience will be the tools they will use to accomplish their objectives.
“I think we have a team this year that has great potential,” Hewland said. “Our goals for this season are definitely to reach this potential and make it to our conference playoffs and become nationally-ranked.”