Season preview: Strong returning class leads women's tennis into 2019

Season preview: Strong returning class leads women's tennis into 2019

SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University women's tennis team comes into the 2019 season with most of its regular lineup from last season returning as the Sea Gulls hope to compete for the top spot in a talented Capital Athletic Conference.

Junior Annika Kezman will anchor the team from the No. 1 singles and doubles position, coming off a year in which she finished with a 13-6 record, and earned first-team All-CAC honors.

"It's great having a person like her at the number one spot," Head Coach Randy Halfpap said. "You know exactly what you're going to get out of her – she's competitive and wants to win every match and every point. We're looking for a big year from her."

Kezman brings added confidence into the season, after climbing into the national singles top-50 rankings at the end of 2018 season.

"It's good to put the work in and see the recognition," Halfpap said. "Other players know her now, she's no secret. She's not a freshman sort of randomly at the top of the lineup. People know she's good and they know her style and she's understanding of that and that she need to bring it every time out on the court."

A strong contingent of returners is prepared to fill out the lineup behind Kezman led by senior Taylor Cooper and transfer Laura Brown.

"One of the things we've tried to work on with Taylor is being a little more aggressive, trying to win a few more points as opposed to creating lost points for her opponent," Halfpap said. "She's definitely done a good job with that."

Brown comes to Salisbury after one year with Methodist University, which Salisbury will play in its first match of the year. Last year, Brown earned a 17-5 record with the Monarchs, playing primarily at the No. 4 singles spot.

The reigning CAC Rookie of the Year Sydney Soto will be a regular in the lineup after a 13-5 record in singles play in 2018 to go with a 14-6 mark in doubles.

Junior Jordan Schaefer comes into the season playing well and looking to build off her 10-7 mark of a year ago.

"Jordan has all the tools," Halfpap said. "Like it is for a lot of us it's just about putting it all together and getting the confidence going. She's one of those where having some good results early can build to the rest of the year."

Senior Shannon Hickman, junior Kayla Allen, sophomore Ariana Leggio, and freshman Sarah Dover will all be battling for playing time early in the season as well.

"When Shannon transferred in she had very little experience, especially playing college tennis," Halfpap said. "Then last year, she got a chance to play and now she's coming in with a comfort level that as of now she'll be our number six this weekend and moving forward. But what is she going to do with it?"

Leggio gained valuable experience as a freshman last year, appearing in 10 matches mostly in doubles, and looks to increase her role.

Doubles will be an area where the pairings will be evaluated early on, after the loss of one of the team's top players from 2018 will lead to new players teaming up this year.

"We're going to play around with the lineup and try to figure out what's going to give us the three best teams," Halfpap said. "And if it means moving some things around, then we'll absolutely move some things around."

The Sea Gulls begin the 2019 season this Saturday, February 16 with a pair of neutral-site matches, being played in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Salisbury will play eight of its first nine matches away from Salisbury.

The Sea Gulls will also be tested throughout the year with a number of nationally and regionally ranked opponents.

"I certainly want tougher matches," Halfpap said. "We're not trying to set up a schedule for an easy 20-0 season, we want competitive matches. Obviously, it's ideal to be home, but if you have to go on the road to play good teams, we want those opportunities."

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