Oct. 12, 2011
Lady Vol Tennis Photo Day Coverage
KNOXVILLE - When the Lady Vol tennis team returns to the court this weekend at the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional, it will have a different look to its doubles pairings.
Senior Natalie Pluskota, tied for the 12th-most doubles wins at Tennessee with 81, will team up with junior Kata Szekely for the first time. Ranked No. 22 together in the ITA preseason rankings, Pluskota started the year playing alongside freshman Joanna Henderson. After recording a 2-3 record in the team's first two tournaments this fall, co-head coaches Mike Patrick and Sonia Hahn-Patrick decided to try a different direction.
"Kata has some experience and Natalie is such a good doubles player," Patrick said. "I think that Jo (Joanna Henderson) and Natalie could be a good team, but Jo is not quite ready yet. She's just not experienced enough and relaxed enough to play where she's capable yet. Kata is certainly capable of doing her thing and I wouldn't be surprised if they won the tournament."
Hahn-Patrick worked closely with Pluskota and Szekely during Wednesday's practice and is looking forward to what they can accomplish together.
"I think they're going to be formidable just for the mere fact that they both have a lot of experience," she said. "It's going to take a little bit of an adjustment to get used to each other and playing together. They have a good understanding of their personalities and their tendencies so I think they'll do well."
Szekely has posted a 36-13 record in doubles while at Tennessee, including an 18-match winning streak in 2011.
"I'm happy to play with Natalie," Szekely said. "She's a great doubles player. I think we can have a good team this weekend and I really hope we do well.
"We communicated well but we have to improve on that. I think our game styles match pretty well and we had a good first practice."
Henderson will play with sophomore Kayla McMurry this weekend at regionals.
NO TIME TO REST
After facing top-notch competition in California last week at the ITA All-American Championships, the Lady Vols will return to action this weekend at the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional hosted at the University of Memphis.
Following their first tournament of the season at the Furman Fall Classic, the Lady Vols returned with a sluggish practice that Tuesday. Despite having to re-adjust to Eastern Standard Time, they refused to have a repeat performance upon returning to practice this week.
"Today was great and yesterday was great as well," sophomore Brynn Boren said. "We all learned from that experience. We came out this week with a purpose to get better with a lot of things to work on so there was no excuse to come out sluggish."
Although the sample size is small, they've lived up to the expectations thus far.
"I think they're doing what we knew they could do," Patrick said. "They're good kids. They work hard. They're going to get better. The more we work, the better they're going to get. We're still a long way away from where we want to be but we're in the right direction for sure."
The right direction is pointed towards January, when the Lady Vols begin team play.
"We're just working on improving," Patrick said. "We can't get too caught up on what we're trying to achieve in a tournament, but we want to work on getting better. I think we have to work on being a little more aggressive in certain situations. We certainly have a lot of room to work on in the return and serve game. Going into this weekend, that's what we're concentrated on."
Tennessee's lone senior backed up her co-head coach.
"It's not a matter of where we're at now, it's a matter of where we're at in the spring," Pluskota said.
Freshman Caitlyn Williams is celebrating her 18th birthday on Thursday. When she blows out the candles on her cake, it won't be hard to guess what she's using her wish on this year.
"It's still up in the air," Williams said of her return date. "I'd obviously like to get back as soon as possible. Hopefully, I can play the doubles tournament that's in November."
Williams is recovering from shoulder surgery, but has been hitting recently and is more comfortable than she thought she'd be.
"It was quite surprising," Williams said. "The first time I went out there, I actually felt pretty good. I thought I was going to be a lot worse than I actually am. It's just really exciting being out there and playing again."
The Lady Vols held their annual photo day earlier this week, showing off their smiles for headshots and team photos. Heading into her team-high fourth photo day, Pluskota's advice to her younger teammates was simple.
"Just wear lots of makeup," she said. "Do the hair. Try to look as beautiful as they possibly can."
"Some did and some didn't," Pluskota quipped, glancing at Henderson with a smile.
"That is not in reference to me," Henderson shot back.
Check out photo and video coverage from the team's photo shoot here.