Five years ago, a former All-American from the University of Miami stepped onto the campus of Florida State University and began to turn the women’s tennis program into one of the nation’s elite. During her five year tenure at FSU, Head Coach Lise Gregory has led her Lady Seminoles to five consecutive NCAA appearances as well as five straight Golden Torch awards, an honor which is given to the team with the highest grade point average among FSU’s athletic teams.
Florida State returns two seniors, one junior and a sophomore, while welcoming seven newcomers to the program this season. With four returning players and an amazing pool of incoming talent, the 2001-02 season looks to be one filled with excitement for the Lady Seminole tennis team.
“I am really excited about the up coming season,” said head coach Lise Gregory. “We have seven new players and only four returners so the whole personality of the team will change. The student-athletes we have coming in are extremely solid and will really push our upper classmen for their positions in the line up. I think competition within the team will help us improve both individually and as a whole. We have the ability to be a top 20 team this year and our goal is to improve on our highest ranking (No. 18) since I have been at Florida State.”
With so many newcomers, and the loss of four key players to graduation, many believe this to be a rebuilding year, yet the coaching staff sees it differently.
“I guess you could say it is a rebuilding year because we have so many new faces, but I do not think we will take a step back at all,” said Gregory. “The new players joining this team have too much ability for us to take a step back.
“One of our strengths this year is the same thing that could be one of our weaknesses which is our youth,” said Gregory. “By that, I mean that we have a lot of work ahead of us with the freshmen and they don’t have the experience yet, but their enthusiasm is going to be a big plus. They are a very talented group and they have been playing tournaments during the summer so they will push the old guard. I think a pecking order is a dangerous thing because people stop pushing themselves. With the new group there will be no pecking order. They will come in and try to beat up on the upper-classmen and that is a good thing. I want our practices to be competitive and for us to be pushing each other each and every day. That will make us a better team.”
Returning seniors Alida Gallovits and Jessica Balbuena are both looking forward to a dynamic senior campaign. Gallovits, who was named to the ALL-ACC team for the third consecutive year, also made her second appearance in the NCAA Individual Championships advancing to the second round of tournament play in 2000. She finished the season with a record of 25-15.
“Alida is a real student-athlete and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach her,” said Gregory. “Her game has gone from strength to strength and she really leads by her actions on and off the court.”
Teammate Balbuena also had a standout season, including a six-match winning streak in the spring. She also earned a doubles ranking of No. 38.
“Jess is probably the most physically talented player I have ever coached,” said Gregory. “When she is focused she is capable of beating anybody in the country.”
Christina Denny will return for her sophomore season after making her mark early in fall play during the 2000 season. Denny not only brings a competitive energy to the team, but is also one of the most relaxed members of the squad.
In doubles action, the team is likely to see some changes. After losing Nanette Duxin to graduation, the tandem of Gallovits and Duxin will no longer be seen as with the tandem of Balbuena and Samantha Schoeffel who finished the doubles season with a record of 14-5.
“We lost one of our best doubles players, Nanette Duxin, to graduation and she is going to be hard to replace,” said Gregory. “She had such a good doubles sense and brought a lot of intensity to the pairing with Alida. Alida, Jess and Christina, our returning starters, are all very good doubles players. We are going to spend a lot of time with the freshmen working on doubles fundamentals, so I feel like we can pick up where we left off last year.”
With five members of last year’s squad named ITA Scholar Athlete All-Americans, seven named to the ACC Honor roll and five consecutive years of earning the Golden Torch Award, the women’s tennis team has been recognized not only for their athleticism but for their academic success as well.
“I am amazed at what this team has accomplished academically,” said Gregory. “Their GPA has been at such a consistently-high level for the past three years, in particular, that no other team in the country has been able to duplicate their achievements. This year we had five ITA Scholar-Athlete All-Americans, more than any other team in the country. At the same time, they have been extremely successful on the court and have also received national sportsmanship and leadership awards. That balance is a great source of pride for me and for the University.”
At the start of preseason practice, much will be on the minds of the Lady Seminoles. Seeing their first action of the fall season at home, as host of the annual Lady Seminole Classic, should bring some excitement to the players. The women’s team could enter four fall tournaments, including the Lady Seminole Classic, the Gator Invitational, Regionals and the Individual Indoor Nationals, before spring play begins, giving them a chance to build up experience before the dual match season gets underway.
“Having such a young team makes the fall tournaments even more important than usual,” said Gregory. “We use the fall tournaments to teach and develop our players, but we also look at those results in determining our spring line up. It is an opportunity for everyone to get in a lot of matches against really tough competition. For the coaching staff, it is an opportunity to get to know the new players during match situations.”
Spring action will keep the Lady ‘Noles close to their home ground as they will play 16 matches at the Scott Speicher Tennis Center while only competing on the road seven times. The first road match will send the women’s team to face rival Florida on Feb. 20th, while the first ACC match of the season will also be on the road against Maryland on March 16th. The Lady Seminoles lead the Maryland Terrapins 8-1 in the all-time series record. The team will finish the season facing four ACC opponents at home before traveling to Raleigh, N.C., for the ACC Tournament.
“Our schedule always includes four or five non-conference teams that are in the top 10,” said Gregory. “Add this to a conference schedule that is comparable to that of the SEC and the PAC 10 and we have a battle on our hands day in and day out. The great thing about this year is that we have 16 home matches and only seven away, so we are going to do everything we can to pack the stands at Speicher!”
When the 36th ranked Lady Seminoles take the courts this year and begin a schedule that will include four teams ranked in the top 15, they will likely realize that they can compete against the nation’s best. After an off-season of intense training, just competing won’t be their goal. The potential for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year is well within reach.
“Making the NCAA’s so consistently is nice but it is not our goal,” said Gregory. “Making the NCAA’s should be a given and I would be extremely disappointed if we did not make the tournament. I feel like it is time for us to make it to the final site, or the “Sweet Sixteen” as they say in basketball. We are capable of doing that and now it needs to happen.”