The Lehigh women’s tennis team will begin its fall season this weekend at the West Point Invitational, hosted by Army on the Malek Tennis Courts. The event will mark the season debut for the Mountain Hawks and their first competition following the restructuring of Lehigh’s tennis programs over the summer.
Head coach Dave Shook will devote his full-time attention to the women’s program after 16 seasons coaching the men and women. Shook served as the head men’s coach for more than 20 years before handing the reins over to former assistant Wouter Hendrix.
With Shook at the helm, and assistant Tammy Cecchini and graduate assistant Jackie Carleton working alongside, the Mountain Hawks will look to improve upon a 5-14 season a year ago that ended with a 4-0 loss to Bucknell in the Patriot League quarterfinals.
Shook enters his 17th season with the Lehigh women just 20 wins shy of 400 combined men’s and women’s victories for his career. He is very excited about the opportunity to just focus his attention and preparation on the women’s team.
“As a coach, receiving the opportunity to coach one team allows for a level of specificity which will breed success,” Shook said. “At present we have a great core of women who want to work hard and invite the challenge this transition year will provide.”
The team is returning its nucleus having graduated lone senior Liz Piscitelli. Although injuries have been a problem for the Mountain Hawks dating back to last year, younger players have stepped up and filled roles for the team.
Junior captains Taylor Hampshire and Jenai Bilimoria have been recovering from injuries, but have inspired their team and stepped up their vocal leadership by providing the intangibles and encouraging their teammates on a daily basis.
“I expect to have Jenai back for the big tournament so she and super sophomore Abby Farrell give us a good 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup,” Shook said. “We expect to get Taylor back for the all important spring season. “
As a sophomore, Bilimoria was a second team All-Patriot League selection and won a team high eight matches playing No. 1 singles, while going 3-2 against Patriot League opponents.
Farrell returns for her sophomore season after a stellar first year in which she led the Mountain Hawks with seven doubles wins playing alongside Bilimoria. She notched eight wins in singles play and primarily played at the No. 2 and No. 3 singles spots.
Hampshire saw limited action as a sophomore before suffering a season ending injury; however she had an impact as No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles and was named to Patriot league Academic Honor Roll.
Returning alongside these upperclassmen is junior Jill Sloand who saw action at the No. 5 and No. 6 leaders and ranked among the team leaders with four doubles wins. Sloand was named to Academic All-Patriot League Team as well and is a member of the Academic All-Patriot League team.
Junior Kathleen Larkin is also looking to bounce back from injury, as Shook hopes to get her back in the upcoming weeks. Larkin is a versatile performer who competed at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, and played anywhere from No. 3 to No. 6 in singles play. She was also named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.
Shook feels very confident in the balance of the lineup, which features sophomores Molly Brooks and Emily Bruch who will assume larger roles in both singles and doubles. Throw in talented freshman Ali Kaminetsky and the Mountain Hawks have a solid core heading into the fall season.
This group of underclassmen is poised for a big season after getting some experience last year on court. Molly Brooks returns after seeing limited action at the lower singles spots and notching some matches at the No. 3 doubles spot.
Brunch returns with the most experience out of three having played in 12 doubles matches at the No. 3 slot and playing No. 6 singles throughout most of the season.
Kaminestsky a freshman hails from Greenwich, Connecticut and looks to step up and fill a void as well, with some of the injuries the team is facing.
Following the West Point Invitational, Lehigh will host a pair of Invitational tournaments on the Ulrich Varsity Courts and inside the Lewis Tennis Center. The first tournament will take place October 12-14 while the second is set for October 26-28.
Story by C.J. McCollum ‘13