Tennis At Dick Vitale Clay Court Classic

Nov. 10, 2011

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KNOXVILLE - The Tennessee women's tennis team will wrap up its fall schedule this weekend when four Lady Vols travel to Sarasota, Fla., on Friday to compete in the Dick Vitale Intercollegiate Clay Court Classic held at the Lakewood Ranch Golf & Country Club from Nov. 11-13.

Sophomore Brynn Boren and freshmen Joanna Henderson, Sarah Toti and Caitlyn Williams all earned first-round byes in the 32-player singles draw and will play Friday at 2 p.m. in the second round.

The 28th-ranked duo of Boren and Toti also received a bye in the 16-team doubles draw, while Henderson and Williams will open action for the Lady Vols when they face JoHanna Manningham and Julia Sabacinski of Notre Dame at 9 a.m on Friday. The second round of doubles is slated to get underway later in the day at 6 p.m.

The Lady Vols have done their best to prepare for the only college event held on clay, which features 16 different schools across the men's and women's fields.

"We've had the opportunity to practice here at the Knoxville Racquet Club and get used to the clay courts," co-head coach Mike Patrick said. "It's been a great opportunity for our girls to do something a little bit different, especially with the pro tournament in town. We're just lucky to be afforded this opportunity."

Also competing in the women's draws are Oklahoma St., Mississippi St., Miami, Notre Dame, Baylor, Northwestern and Clemson.

Admission to the tournament will be free and open to the public but donations will be taken for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Freshman Caitlyn Williams will pick up her tennis career in the same way she left it off - on clay.

Last playing competitively in July 2010 at the National Clay Court Championships in Memphis, Tenn., Williams will make her long-awaited Tennessee debut Friday after recovering from shoulder surgery.

"It's been a long process and I've been out for quite a long time," Williams said. "I'm really looking forward to going down to Florida and just getting to play again. I'm just really thrilled, excited and thankful that I'll be able to play down there."

While the rehabilitation process has been long, the coaches are being cautious in making sure it isn't too short, either.

"She's been doing great," co-head coach Sonia Hahn-Patrick said. "The only thing that has been real difficult is just trying to make sure we don't rush her as far as her preparation and just getting back. She's been progressing nicely. It's just a matter of tapering and not overdoing it because she has such an enthusiasm to play right now."

Ranked as a blue-chip prospect in high school by, Williams enlisted in the advice of a former Lady Vol All-American.

"My mom has kind of talked to me about just going out there and letting me know that it doesn't really matter if I win or lose," said Williams, who is the daughter of the former Michelle DePalmer, a 1981 All-American at UT. "She's proud that I've come this far and not given up or anything throughout all of my rehab process. It's just `Go out there and have fun,' really, and she's happy no matter what."

While Williams claims that her biggest challenge has been not competing in matches, she's been at every practice this season and viewed things from a different perspective.

"I think she's really observed a lot and knows what to expect," Hahn-Patrick said. "She has a good feel and sense of the court so it really hasn't been that difficult or that long for her to get back into it."

Freshman Joanna Henderson made her collegiate debut in September, but will compete for the first time in more than a month after nagging injuries held her out of the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional.

"It's definitely been frustrating but now I'm back playing and pretty much almost fit so it's exciting," Henderson said. "I'm definitely ready to go play. I'm excited about going and hopefully, it will be a good tournament for us all."

Henderson is 2-1 in singles and holds a 2-3 mark in doubles, but Patrick is looking forward to what she can accomplish when healthy.

"Her feet have been better this week," Patrick said. "She's gotten a good week of practice in. She's starting to look like the girl I know she can be and the kind of player she can be. It's a positive end to the fall and hopefully, she can use this time between now and January to really get herself ready to play."

A busy fall in tennis often means a successful one, which was the case for both senior Natalie Pluskota and junior Kata Szekely, neither of whom will compete this weekend.

Together, they won their first seven doubles matches to advance all the way from the Ohio Valley Regional to the quarterfinals of the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, including a win over 12th-ranked Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather of Florida.

"Kata has really stepped it up," Patrick said. "Natalie has already played on a big stage nationally. This was Kata's first year to really step up, play and assert her on a national stage. She's done a great job and it's noticeable."

Pluskota and Szekely each won nine doubles matches this fall, but were also successful individually.

The Lady Vols lone senior, 8-5 in singles, defeated the highest-ranked opponent of her career, No. 6 Zoe De Bruycker (UNC), at the Furman Fall Classic, while also advancing to the Ohio Valley Regional semifinals and earning an at-large selection to the National Indoors singles draw.

Despite a strong fall personally, her focus remains on Tennessee.

"We just have to keep working hard and there's still a lot to teach the girls and share with them so that we can get them ready to compete in dual matches," Pluskota said.

Meanwhile, her doubles partner finished the fall with a 7-2 record, capturing the flight three singles title at Furman, and recording a 3-1 mark against ranked competition. Szekely wrapped up her singles play by advancing to the quarterfinals of the Ohio Valley Regional.

The important thing for her, is to carry it over into the spring.

"I got confidence over this fall season," Szekely said. "That's definitely something I have to keep going in January."

(Co-head coach Mike Patrick)
"It's timing, sliding and movement. It's something different really to end the fall season. We're looking forward to getting down to Sarasota and playing on the clay against some teams from all over the country. It will be a fun event."

(Sophomore Brynn Boren)
"The surface in general causes so many different things. It causes slow balls so your opponent gets more balls back. You slip and you slide so when you're out of position it hard to get back in position. There are bad bounces because the clay gets lumpy at some parts of the court .There are a lot of things."

(Freshman Sarah Toti)
"For me, my biggest challenge is definitely moving on it. You have to be quick to get to the ball and put a lot more legs into it. For me, that movement is key. Also, it's a different game style. You have to make more balls, stay in the rally and work the point more. That challenges me more for sure, so I'm looking forward to it."

(Freshman Caitlyn Williams)
"I've always enjoyed playing on clay. I've played a lot in South America and Europe. I really like the surface. It's definitely different than the hard courts, but I'm looking forward to playing down there in Florida."





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