BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh women’s tennis team will open its season on Thursday against Rutgers inside the Lewis Tennis Center. The squad is seeking redemption after last season’s disappointing 6-13 record. With a number of younger players getting accustomed to college tennis, the Mountain Hawks’ 2011 season ended with a 4-3 loss to Colgate in the Patriot League quarterfinals.
Entering his 16th season at the helm, head coach Dave Shook is expecting a lot from the team this season despite last season’s performance. The team is still relatively young this season and consists of one senior, four sophomores, and four freshmen.
“Despite the team being very young, we’re already better than we were last year,” Shook said. “All the girls have been working hard and acquiring the skills needed to be successful.”
Shook is expecting a lot out of sophomores Taylor Hampshire and Jenai Bilimoria. Both were thrust into the top singles spots as freshmen last season and held their own. Hampshire was the team’s lone All-Patriot League selection, earning second team honors. Shook said both will once again be in the top singles spots this season and are raring to go.
“Taylor’s been a little banged up but she’s trained hard enough to the point where she’s ready to go,” Shook said. “And Jenai has worked hard on her game the entire offseason. She’s been playing with a lot of fire lately.”
The team’s lone senior, Liz Piscitelli, is poised to have her best year on South Mountain. Shook said Piscitelli has rubbed off on her younger teammates with her fire.
“It has been a joy watching Liz bring so much energy and excitement to practices,” Shook said. “Her attitude is showing the girls that they can play well as a team.”
Rounding out the veteran returnees are sophomores Kathleen Larkin and Jill Sloand. Both contributed last year and Shook is expecting both to take their play to the next level.
Freshmen Abby Farrell and Gabby Drucker have impressed Shook with their hard work in practices and he expects both to contribute immediately. Shook has also been impressed with freshman Molly Brooks’ steady improvement each day in practice.
“All three freshmen played a lot this past Fall which should be just enough experience for Spring play,” Shook said. “This may be asking for a lot but we need them to play like upperclassmen.”
The team had a late addition in freshman Emily Bruch. She recently joined the squad this semester and is waiting for clearance to play. Bruch has impressed Shook with her gutsiness and strong serving ability.
The team will play its first nine matches at home in the Lewis Tennis Center. Their first road match will be an early March trip to Georgetown. The first Patriot League match will be on April 1 at Navy, and five of the last six matches are against Patriot League foes.
“The schedule is ambitious because we’ll be playing mostly full scholarship schools,” Shook said. “Even though it’s a tough schedule, at least we’ll have good preparation for our Patriot League matches.”
Thursday’s match against Rutgers will begin at 3 p.m. in the Lewis Tennis Center. The Mountain Hawks will then host Fairleigh Dickinson Saturday at 10 a.m. and Saint Francis (Pa.) Sunday at 2 p.m.
Story written by Antoine Williams ‘12