SALISBURY, Md. – In 2018, the Salisbury University women's tennis team will, for the first time in six years, send out the same players at its top two singles positions who finished the previous year in those places in the lineup.
The consistency is the result of a young team during the 2017 season, which saw stability at the No. 1 and 2 spots from Annika Kezman and Julia Kwedi, respectively, who will again anchor the lineup as the pair enters its sophomore season.
"It's nice having those two, and for the younger players to know having them, you know what you're going to get," Head Coach Randy Halfpap said. "We know the leadership and the ability that they bring to the positions and it makes us feel good that we can put them up there and we can compete at one and two with most teams in the country."
Kezman went 11-3 in the No. 1 singles spot last season, often times waiting out opponents, and this season looking to be more of the aggressor, getting more winners to shorten matches and make her stronger in the long run.
Kwedi was 10-4 in the No. 2 spot last year, and comes from the other end of the spectrum as Kezman, with a highly aggressive personality on the court, looking to pick and choose times to play a bit more conservatively this year.
While the top two players are just sophomores, there is experience, but minimal age through the remainder of the lineup, with junior Taylor Cooper expected to be at No. 3 singles, followed by freshman Sydney Soto and sophomore Jordan Schaefer and junior Shannon Hickman.
Cooper saw the highest number of matches of the returners vying for playing time, going 9-6 last year, primarily at No. 4, and will likely climb a spot in the lineup to No. 3 filling the void of the graduation of senior Claudia Lohn, who will be an assistant coach with the team this year.
Soto, a Peachtree, Georgia native, looks to step into the middle of the lineup early in the season.
"She's a very hard worker and very focused, but she lacks a little bit of the experience that's so great for Annika and Julia," Halfpap said. "She has some of the best strokes on the team and she has all the intangibles you're looking for in a player, she just is missing college tennis experience."
Schaefer played in 14 matches, with Hickman getting 10 singles opportunities last season and will be battling for a place in the lineup, along with Sage Cole, the lone senior on the squad, and freshmen Marina Kaiafas and Ariana Leggio.
In doubles play, Kezman and Kwedi paired up at the top of the lineup for a 10-7 record last year, but with the differing styles and the importance of all three doubles points to begin a match, Halfpap may tinker with the lineup early in the season, shuffling some pairings.
"What makes for our best chance to win as a team?" Halfpap said will be the key to the pairings. "There are obviously some different things to take into account with certain parings, and we may go with some more familiar pairings at the beginning of the year and see how things go, with the opportunity to make changes as the season progresses."
Kezman has spent some time paired with Schaefer in practice while Kwedi and Soto have practiced together, though the situation could be fluid through the first few weeks of the season as teams settle together, with Cooper, Cole, Leggio, and Hickman expected to contribute in doubles play, as well.
The ultimate goal with the lineup is to figure out what gives the Sea Gulls the best chance to win as they get to the Capital Athletic Conference schedule and postseason.
Salisbury will get a pair of neutral-site contests to begin the season this weekend at Fredericksburg, Virginia taking on Dickinson College and Methodist University before playing its first home match on Friday, February 23 against Catholic University of America.
The CAC schedule gets started on March 4 against Frostburg State University, with four nationally-ranked teams on the schedule beginning in the middle of March. The Sea Gulls will take on preseason No. 17 Sewanee: The University of the South on March 19 and will get three-consecutive ranked opponents in April, when they take on No. 26 Christopher Newport University, No. 36 The College of New Jersey, and No. 15 University of Mary Washington in succession.