THURSDAY, APRIL 17, 2008
Women's tennis set to defend tournament title

April 16, 2008

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - A year ago, the JU women's tennis team came here to show that its Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title was not a fluke.

This year, they return as the hunted - defending tournament champions - and looking to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.

"We are excited about going to the tournament and the opportunity to defend the title," said JU head coach Shane Wood. "We've had a great run at the end of the season and everyone is playing at a high level right now. The great thing is we know what we have to do to be successful and last year's experience is a major help."

The Dolphins (17-5, 10-1 A-Sun) hold the No. 1 seed in the tournament and will face No. 8 seed Lipscomb in the first round of the event. The potential semifinal matchup would be against the winner of the Campbell-Belmont match.

"One of the things that I've learned having gone through the league once is that anyone is capable of beating anyone on any given day," Wood said. "We can't go out there over-confident because all of the teams are capable of knocking us off."

JU enters the tournament riding a wave of momentum, having won 14 of its last 16 matches. During that streak, the top three in the Jacksonville lineup has been hot. Lena Willi, the Dolphins' No. 2 player, has won eight in a row entering the tournament.

No. 1 Lina Xu and No. 3 Tatiana Soldatova have both won five in a row as well. No. 4 Juliana Umeki is right behind having won four in a row.

"Our top four have been pretty solid for us all season," Wood said.

PLAYER PREVIEWS

1. Lina Xu: Enters the tournament having won three matches in a row in singles play while sporting a 17-4 overall record and 8-2 mark in conference play. She finished the year 14-4 when playing at the No. 1 position, taking over three matches into the year. Xu formed a tough tandem with Juliana Umeki in the No. 3 doubles position, going 14- 4 on the season and 6-2 in conference play. She stepped up with the clinching point in JU's 4-3 win over Davidson. Wood on Xu: "Lina had some typical freshman moments, but playing number one is a pressure filled position. She is very mentally tough and relishes the opportunity where the match is on the line and her match decides things."

2. Lena Willi: The lone senior on the squad, Willi completed her second straight undefeated run through the league en route to a 16-6 overall record. After a rocky start in which she lost her first three matches in the No. 1 position, Willi bounced back and is red hot entering the tournament - having won eight in a row. In doubles, she hooked up Fernanda Carrero at the No. 2 position and posted an 11-7 record. Wood on Willi: "Lena is the leader of the team, and is great competitor having gone undefeated in conference play the last two years. She has a very business-like approach, she just goes out there and gets it done."

3. Tatiana Soldatova: In her second season at JU, Soldatova continues to impress as she compiled a 17-5 record, going 10-1 in A-Sun play. She enters the tournament having won nine of her last 10 matches en route to a 16-4 record at the No. 3 position. A solid doubles player, she teamed up with Iva Jaresova in the No. 1 doubles position to 9-9 this season - including a 5-3 record in league play. Wood on Soldatova: "Tatiana is a fierce competitor. She is very aggressive on the court and plays her style no matter the circumstance, always putting pressure on her opponent. She really stepped up her play in March and April after a slow start and is playing the best tennis on the team."

4. Juliana Umeki: A sophomore transfer, Umeki jumped into the starting lineup early and has made a big difference for the Dolphins. She racked up a 17-4 record, playing the Nos. 4 and 6 positions and enters the tournament having won six in a row. One of the top players in the league at the No. 4 position, she was able to go 10-1 in A-Sun play. Wood on Umeki:"Juliana really helped solidfy the lineup and gave us a deeper lineup than last year. She won a lot of tough matches at No. 4 and her doubles play has really made us a lot better."

5. Iva Jaresova: Jaresova has struggled during her sophomore campaign as she has battled a nagging leg injury that has forced her to retire in some matches. She enters the tournament with a 7-13 record, going 5-5 in league play, but has teamed up with Tatiana Soldatova to create a tough doubles team at the No. 1 position. Wood on Jaresova:"She has the most fighting spirit on the team as she has struggled with a leg injury that she just can't seem to shake. The girls tend to rally around here as they know that she is fighting through a bunch of injuries this season. She has a really big heart and gives us 100 percent every time out."

6. Fernanda Carrero: Carrero has gone through an up-and-down season, going 11-10 in singles play - including a 6-4 mark in conference play. She has seen time at the No. 5 and 6 position, going 4-3 at No. 5 and 7-7 at No. 6. She will be a key player in the Dolphins drive to another A-Sun title. Wood on Carrero:"Fernanda had a good record at singles, playing both five and six. She improved tremendously from last year and has given us a real boost at the bottom of the lineup. When she's focused, she's as good as anyone on the team to win big matches for us."