GREENSBORO - North Carolina A&T women's tennis head coach James Dunwoody is expecting his team to come back prepared to work this season, as the Aggies have a tough schedule in 2013.
"We could have a really good season, if these girls come back with their attitudes right and be willing to work. But it's not going to be easy," he said.
The Aggies will be on the road for all but six non-conference matches this season, and will face several top programs in the area including Appalachian State, Wofford, East Carolina, and Gardner-Webb, in addition to several strong MEAC teams in the Southern and Northern Divisions.
"I'm looking forward to the young ladies coming back and seeing where they are-seeing what work they did during the Christmas break," he said. "And seeing who's got the right attitude to compete at a higher level and who really wants to be in the starting lineup, who wants to play, who really wants to get out there and grind."
The Aggies will be relying on their seasoned veterans to lead them this season. The Aggies return seven athletes from last year's team that finished 2-14 overall and 1-5 in conference play. Their 18 singles victories in 2012 were three times more than they won the previous season, and their 11 doubles wins were also increased.
To help the Aggies further their improvement, the Aggies return junior Victorea Austin, junior Kimberly Stalling and senior April Burrage, who each tied for the team lead in singles wins with four apiece. Burrage and teammate sophomore Kenya Colbert also led the team with six doubles victories, including three MEAC wins in 2012.
The Aggies also return seniors Cayla Cross and Nianna Henry, and will welcome back senior Chloe McSwain, who missed the 2012 season as she was studying abroad in Puerto Rico. Junior Kendra Esparza-Harris also returns from the 2012 squad. Four freshmen join the team in Jayla Scott, Takeyrah Reid, Unique Hawkins and Shaunasie Perkins.
The 2013 season will be crucial especially for the freshman class, as the Aggies will see five athletes graduate in May. Dunwoody said he will spend this spring grooming the freshmen to be able to step up and help fill the holes left by his outgoing class.
"We'll just try to fit them in where appropriate, let them get their feet wet and train them for next year," said Dunwoody.
The Aggie lineup will be different than last year, as some athletes earned promotions to higher singles positions. Dunwoody also said he thinks his lineup will help the Aggies maximize the number of points the team can win in each match. A point is earned for every singles victory and for winning 2 of the 3 doubles matches. A team needs to win four of seven points to win the overall match.
Dunwoody said his projected starting lineup is as follows: Colbert at the No. 1 singles position, Austin earned a promotion to the No. 2 position, while Stalling will play at No. 3. Both Colbert and Stallings played some matches at the No. 1 and No. 3 positions last year.
Dunwoody said he is moving Cross down to the No. 4 singles starting position, where she is more likely to win, as she struggled at the top half of the order in 2012. Scott will start in the No. 5 position, after having a strong fall season for A&T, and Henry will likely play the No. 6 singles match for the Aggies this season.
"We can win some matches with this lineup if Cross and Henry step up to the plate and say, 'Ok, I'm a senior, I'm going to give it my all this year,'" He said. "There are some people that could be surprised."
For doubles competition, Dunwoody plans to pair Cross and Scott for the first team, Stalling and Austin for the second team, and Burrage and Colbert for the third team. The only returning pairing from last season is Burrage and Colbert, who earned a team-best six victories last year as the No. 3 team.
But even though that is his projected lineup entering the season, Dunwoody noted that having 12 players available on his team gives him some flexibility with his lineup, allowing him to play special match-ups against his opponents.
"I've got depth, I've got combinations, I can have specific doubles teams," he said. "I've got several different combinations that I can use to have some people exclusively playing doubles and some people exclusively playing singles."
The Aggies will look to qualify for the MEAC Tournament for the first time since 2010. They must finish fourth or better in the Southern Division to advance to the championship tournament.