The East Central Community College men's and women's tennis teams opened their 2018 spring seasons in February, both hoping that team depth and a desire to improve will carry them against formidable schedules.
Head Coach Jay Pacelli, who begins his third season leading the ECCC men's and women's tennis teams, said both squads have depth and a desire to better last year's efforts. The ECCC women's team finished tied for fifth place in last spring's Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges State/National Junior College Athletic Association Region 23 Tournament, while the men finished sixth.
"The strength of both our teams is the depth we have—at both singles and doubles—and the desire and dedication of the players to improve on the accomplishments of last year's teams," Pacelli noted. "The challenge for both teams is that most every team in our state has improved, so our schedule will be difficult."
The 2018 men's schedule includes matches against six MACJC teams ranked in the Oracle/Intercollegiate Tennis Association JUCO Top 25, as well as matches with No. 7 Cowley College (Arkansas City, Kan.), No. 14 Marion Military Institute (Marion, Ala.), No. 21 Gadsden State Community College (Gadsden, Ala.), and No. 23 Wallace State Community College (Hanceville, Ala.)
The ECCC women's team will face five ranked MACJC opponents, as well as No. 11 Cowley County.
"Our schedule is a tremendous challenge," explained Pacelli, "but I believe both of our programs are national type programs with talented players, despite not being ranked in the preseason top 25. We are excited about seeing how things play out on the courts this spring."
The ECCC men's team was ranked as high as No. 17 in the nation last spring, while the women are looking to crack the Top 25 this spring.
On the men's side, the Warriors lost four players who saw significant time at singles and doubles. They included No. 2 singles player John Jimenez (Oruro, Bolivia), who is currently a top player at Blue Mountain College. Also gone are Will Stewart and Graham Murphree, who prepped at Newton County, and Brandon Rodgers from Winston Academy. Stewart and Jimenez teamed to finish second in No. 2 doubles at the 2017 MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 Tournament last April.
Key returners for spring 2018 are Tom Langelaar (Veldhoven, Netherland) and Joseph Jabour of Warren Central in Vicksburg, who both played singles and doubles a year ago. Sophomores Willie Wooten of Warren Central and Emontie Lewis of Terry also return.
Pacelli also expects five first-year players to contribute, including Landon Gibson out of Clarkdale, Isaac Keen of Winston Academy, Wilton Ladner of Stone County, Alex Sumerall of Morton, and Jake Wofford of East Webster.
"I'm counting on Tom, Joseph and Willie in particular leading us to success in doubles, and our freshmen winning some points late in the matches during singles play," said Pacelli. "The team's strength is that we have nine guys capable of success on the court and able to contribute significant victories throughout the season."
On the women's side, Pacelli must overcome the loss of five key singles and doubles players, including Andi McCrimon, who prepped at Winston Academy, and Chaney Mills of Newton County, who finished second in No. 2 doubles at the 2017 MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 Tournament. Also gone are Emily Dykeman of Forest, Samantha McCrimon of Winston Academy, and Hannah Payne of Union.
Pacelli will lean heavily this spring on returning players and team captains Tatiana Quinonez (Bogota, Columbia) and Julia Johnston of Florence. Quinonez played No. 1 singles and doubles last year. Johnston, who battled an injury during the season, teamed with Quinonez at No. 1 doubles and also played No. 3 singles when healthy. Pacelli also expects freshman Gabriela Gomez from Bogota, Columbia, to step in and contribute immediately.
"Tatiana is primed to improve on her freshman season as she is in great shape, and Julia is dedicated to having a big impact leading our lineup to victory in doubles and singles," said Pacelli. "Gabriela is a talented addition who with improved consistent play can be one of the top players in the state."
Pacelli will also count on the other newcomers to the team, including Sara Mazzella, Alexis Tindall, and Bethany Wellerman from the state championship Newton County Academy tennis team; Meredith Bozeman of Brookhaven; Madison Crapps of Pisgah; and Caylee Grace Yarborough of Loyd Star High School.
"Our goal for both teams is a state championship and a spot in the national tournament," commented Pacelli. "The effort of the players in preseason has been tremendous. They put in a lot of hard work during the grind of January practices, and I appreciate their efforts.
"The keys to successful seasons are staying healthy and winning the pressure points in what I anticipate will be some very close matches against our rivals. Our plan is to peak in April and be playing our best tennis by the state and region tournament."
Associate Vice President for Public Information
East Central Community College
A full schedule of matches can be found online at www.ecccathletics.com.