SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo women’s tennis team is getting prepared to open their 2010 regular season on Saturday, February 6th. Yet, when the Lions roll into Lakeland on Wednesday to take on the Florida Southern Moccasins, it will not be under the helm of hall of fame coach Tim Crosby. Stepping in, however, is new head coach James Bryce as he looks to make a statement and begin his own legacy during his first year as the Lions new captain.
Two years off of their first NCAA regional appearance, the Lions concluded the 2009 campaign 9-17 overall and 2-6 in the Sunshine State Conference.
With new leadership, come new challenges. When discussing the ladies ability to adapt to the new direction Bryce stated, “The girls on the team were excited and having been willing to work since day one. The fall went better than expected and I hope their enthusiasm and willingness to learn continues into the spring.” He went on to say, “Everyday is a learning experience. We are growing as a team and I look forward to what lies ahead.”
Bryce does have one advantage on his side and that is a rather experienced group of student-atheltes. Of the eight players on the team, five are upperclassman. Of those five, two are seniors including team captain Shaena Keefe and Gina Schifano. Junior Jeanette McDonald will be accompanied by a pair of junior-transfers in Selma Hidass and Tamara Bustard. About his ladies he said, “We have a great group. We have solid leadership and a tremendous bunch of freshman and sophomores. We have strong competition on the court and that is important when a team is trying to grow and get better.”
Taking over the leadership roles this year are a couple of four-year members in Keefe and Schifano. In 2009, Keefe posted and individual record of 11-13 and a combined doubles record of 14-12, including a 14-5 record with McDonald. Keefe spent the majority of last season at both No. 2 singles and doubles. Her veteran instinct will be pivotal in determining how far this team will go. Joining her is Schifano. The Tampa, Fla. native played in 24 total matches, posting a 9-15 mark in singles play. She went 8-10 at No. 4 singles before posting an 11-15 doubles record.
McDonald enters the season with high expectations and looks to challenge for the No. 1 singles spot. In her first year with the Lions, the Spring Hill, Fla. native played in a total of 19 contests posting a 10-9 overall record and a 3-4 Sunshine State Conference mark. At the No. 3 position, she compiled a 10-7 record. In doubles play, McDonald amassed a 16-7 record while going 3-4 in the SSC. Along with her teammate Keefe, she went 14-4 in the No. 2 position.
Joining McDonald are pair of new additions, Hidass and Bustard. Hidass is a native of Rabat, Morocco and comes to the Lions via Clayton State University.
Bustard, on the other hand, is a local find and comes to SLU through Pasco-Hernando Community College. Prior to her PHCC days, Bustard attended Ridgewood High School in New Port Richey, Fla. While there, Bustard was named Most Improved, Team MVP, and All-Conference. She didn’t just do it on the court, as she was also named Academic All-Conference and concluded her high school playing career with a Wendy’s Heisman Award.
The Lions also bring talented youth to the equation. First on that list is Christine Clyne. A Miami, Fla. native, Clyne spent her previous playing time at Gulliver Preparatory before deciding on Saint Leo. A talented player, she possesses many of the skills necessary to succeed at this conference’s level.
Rounding out the trio of underclassman are Chloe Anderson and Caroline Ebner. Anderson excelled during her senior season at Freedom High School. She registered the highest service percentage during the year on top of being named the team captain. The Belle Chase, La. native concluded the year accumulating a 13-2 record her senior season.
Positions are still in the works. Eventually, according to Bryce, “It all comes down to practice and how hard they work, not just in practice but on their own time as well, in determining where each gets to play. It is an interesting scenario, but I feel the girls will push each other to get better. Each spot will be earned and I look forward to seeing how it unfolds.”
The Lions have 21 contests on tap for the season, including 12 matches at the friendly confines of the SLU Tennis Center. Saint Leo welcomes in multiple out-of-region opponents, with the likes of Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State ready to challenge the Green & Gold. The Lions will open home action this Saturday against the Sailfish. Serve is set for 1:00 p.m.