While February may seem like an early time to be playing a “spring” sport, the University of South Dakota women’s tennis team won’t wait for warmer weather to start what looks to be a promising season.
In a recent Summit League coaches’ preseason poll, the Coyotes were ranked third out of eight teams. Kansas City and Fort Wayne ranked ahead of USD’s women and received similar first place votes.
Head coach Malcolm Gilreath, in his ninth season, attributed such high preseason expectations to the wealth of returning players from the 2011-2012 campaign.
“I think part of the reason we were voted third is because we have a lot of good returning players,” Gilreath said. “Michelle (Elkin) played at the No. 1 position last year and is really solid.”
Elkin, in her third year of eligibility, will move to the No. 2 singles slot. The team’s co-captain won 11 matches with straight set wins at No. 1 singles last year and also played in several doubles matches with second-year teammate Nina Barudzic.
“Last year when I was at No. 1, it was somewhat rocky for me. Since I’m at No. 2 this year, I hope to get some more wins,” Elkin said.
With an experienced player in Elkin to play in the upper part of the lineup, Gilreath said the team’s strength lies in the middle of the lineup.
“We return everyone who played No. 4-6 last year — Nina Barudzic, Veronika Makashov and Yamini Reddy -— they were great,” she said. “Each of them had 20 wins or more, which is fabulous.”
The Makashov-Reddy-Barudzic trio accounted for a combined 76 singles victories last season. Makashov, a fourth-year member of the team, is the team’s other captain and has the most experience playing at the collegiate level, transferring from the University of Texas-El Paso prior to the 2010 season.
Barudzic, a native of Serbia, spent most of the year playing at the No. 4 singles slot and finished with a record of 20-18. Reddy, a second year player hailing from India established herself with a team-high 29 singles victories.
Makashov outlined team chemistry as a crucial part of the team’s overall success for the season.
“From the beginning, we’ve been a close knit group,” Makashov said. “We always support each other, which I think is really awesome. It shows in our results. We all get along very well.”
Elkin said she hopes the team can play well enough throughout the season to qualify for the Summit League conference tournament.