SALISBURY, Md. – It would be easy to look at the Salisbury University women's tennis roster and call 2017 a rebuilding year. The Sea Gulls return only three players from last year, and graduated their No. 1 and 2 players in the lineup. And while the future does look bright with a young Sea Gull squad, don't be fooled, they are focused on winning in 2017.
"Looking at this year's roster, there is definitely a big change from the past," 18th-year Head Coach Randy Halfpap said. "But the good part is we have two significant freshmen coming in to play that are the top two right now.
"Under the circumstances of how many players we lost, and which players we lost, we're in a pretty good situation in regards to looking to the future and next couple of years with what we have, who those young players are and the roles they'll play."
The success of 2017 will begin with the leadership of senior captain Claudia Lohn, who has been an anchor for the Sea Gulls in the middle of the lineup throughout her career.
"It's tough, this is the first year of her being the captain, and you're getting used to new faces and new personalities," Halfpap said. "The younger players don't know how we've done things in the past, so it's up to her to show them the way."
Lohn is expected to be in the middle of the lineup again, at the No. 3 singles spot and No. 2 doubles in 2017 after putting up a 10-6 singles record and an 11-7 mark in doubles last year. Lohn brings a level of focus to the court that the new Sea Gull squad will need, to ensure when they step on the courts, it is all about the tennis at that moment.
"She's done a really good job with setting the tone for the work ethic that it takes to be successful," Halfpap said. "She's definitely not the type that will get in your face, but she absolutely has the respect of her teammates, which is huge."
The freshmen at the top of the lineup will be Julia Kwedi and Annika Kezman who split time as the top two singles spots in the team's opening weekend, where they combined for a 3-3 record in matches against three regionally-ranked squads.
Kezman will be a frustration for opponents by keeping balls in play and allowing her opponents to make the mistake this season. But can reach back for a winner, when needed.
"She can really step in and hit a backhand, and she can loop some balls," Halfpap said. "As an opponent, you're not going to get a consistent look to adapt to, she mixes it up well. If she can stay mentally engaged, she's really tough to beat."
Kwedi is an intense competitor, which could be a detriment at times if she struggles, but on the other side can ride momentum to outstanding play.
"Both Annika and Julia are tough and it's nice that they have each other to practice and push each other," Halfpap said. "And doubles wise, they haven't even scratched the surface of how good they can become."
Sophomore Taylor Cooper, the only other returner who appeared in at least half the team's matches from last season, is settling in to the No. 4 spot, though Halfpap would like to see some of his other players pressure her for that spot.
Junior Sage Cole, who played in five matches last season – with a 5-0 singles mark – along with sophomore Shannon Hickman and freshman Jordan Schaefer are a balanced trio looking to sort out the final two singles spots.
"We're just looking for something to click," Halfpap said. "Nobody stands out above the others. We have options as we have three inexperienced players, we're just looking to see what works best."
The Sea Gulls opened the season with a weekend on the road, which was a good way to build some added camaraderie among the young team with an overnight trip, a situation that Halfpap likes early in the season.
The Sea Gulls now get a pair of matches at home before beginning Capital Athletic Conference play on March 10 at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Following the CAC opener, the squad will head west for its annual spring break trip in California.
The majority of the CAC schedule, when the team hopes to be playing its best, will take place in early April, before the conference playoffs begin on April 15.