Five Newcomers Bring Dynamic Backgrounds to UCF Women's Tennis


GO KNIGHTS Head coach Stephanie Nickitas has a lot of new faces in the program for 2012-13.
GO KNIGHTS
Head coach Stephanie Nickitas has a lot of new faces in the program for 2012-13.
GO KNIGHTS

Sept. 12, 2012

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By Brian Ormiston
UCFAthletics.com

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Collegiate tennis programs usually only feature about 8-10 student-athletes on their rosters, and there are about 1-3 newcomers each season. In 2012-13, however, the UCF women's tennis team boasts five newcomers, meaning 50% of its overall roster is brand new on campus.

Returning from a year ago, seniors Jenna Doerfler and Genevieve Lorbergs along with juniors Courtney Griffith, Josephine Haraldson and Cassie Hochwalt are all looking forward to another year on the courts. During the 2012 spring dual-match campaign, the Black and Gold took on 10 nationally-ranked opponents, and won 10 matches overall including victories over Michigan State, Harvard and West Virginia.

The veterans are now busy mentoring the newest Knights, and they hail from all over the world. Junior Ann-Sophie Porry spent the last two seasons at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, but hails from the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Meanwhile, freshman Sofia Baptista arrives to Orlando out of Portugal and classmate Katie Spivak calls Canada home.

Also part of this year's class are two freshmen in Caroline Eberhart and Clare Mendell. Eberhart recently graduated from Marian High School in Indiana, and Mendell was a member of the King's Academy in Georgia.

Even though they have very different hometowns, they all were amazed by UCF and the tennis program.

"I came to UCF because they have an incredible atmosphere here," Mendell said. "I wanted a big school with a big athletic program that truly cares about their student-athletes. It's also a great academic school. UCF has all of that.

"What completely sold UCF to me was the coaches and the girls on the team. They welcomed me in just like a family would. They care so much about you, and would do anything for you. They push you to be your best in everything that you do. UCF is just a great school that everyone needs to look at."

Eberhart and Baptista agreed.

"The balance of great academics and tennis as well as the opportunity to grow and improve in all areas of my life helped me decide to come to UCF," Eberhart said. "The excellent coaching staff also made the decision to come to UCF very easy with their positive outlooks and upbeat attitudes about the upcoming season."

"I chose UCF because it offers excellent conditions for students who are also athletes," Baptista said. "It has a great tennis program and my field of study, civil engineering, is highly regarded with a very good ranking among U.S. faculties. So it was the ideal combination. And of course the weather also counted."

The newest Knights received this opportunity to be a Division I student-athlete thanks to a strong support group, and also starting to play tennis at a young age.

"I started playing tennis when I was five years old in Canada," Spivak recalled. "I was in grade 11 and 16 years old when I moved to Bradenton to play tennis in the States at IMG Bollettieri's Tennis Academy. Tennis at a younger age was fun. I played in provincials for team Canada, and also went to city finals in high school along with OFSAA.

"My parents, my sister Claudia and brother Cole, also my grandparents have all helped me so much get to this point in my life. Also my former coach Red who trained me while I went to IMG academies for three years; he's very tough but very fair. He pushed me to do my best and more. My support that I have gotten over the years to make it to this point has been truly amazing."

Porry kicked off her tennis lifestyle at the age of six in Martinique.

"I would never be here if it wasn't all because of my dad," Porry said. "He was the one who brought me for the first time on a tennis court. He has always made sure that I got everything I need to have the opportunity to improve in tennis, follow my dreams and be successful academically. He is a hard worker that might be the reason why I like to push my limits and give my best whenever I play.

"So I am really thankful to him but also to (junior-college coach) Betsy McCormack. She was a great support the last two years, playing for her team was an honor and I have evolved so much not only as a player but as a person too. She is the most incredible person I have ever met. I couldn't be any happier to had the opportunity to meet her and to know that she is part of my life. I'm just glad to have these two people in my life."

Over in Europe, living on the tennis courts was just as fun.

"I first started playing tennis when I was seven years old with my cousins, in a summer clinic at our country club in Cascais, Portugal," Baptista said. "Everybody had their racket in their right hand, so I did the same, and it was quite a disaster. I'm left-handed, by the way. Then the coach told everyone to play with their left hand and I was the only one hitting the ball. That felt much better.

"I remember the eight-and-under tournaments, which were a lot of fun and everybody received a medal, even if you had lost all your matches. We don't have high school tennis in Portugal, so in high school you do national and regional tournaments but also ITF juniors and those were really exciting. I was able to meet some professional tennis players and that made me want to be like them in the future."

And in the United States, Mendell also began her tennis career at seven years old.

"I went to a tennis camp in Ft. Lauderdale, and at the end whenever they were handing out awards, I got the Hustle Award. It was history from there," Mendell said. "The biggest influence I have had all of my life is my family. They have pushed me to be the person I am today. My father played college tennis at North Carolina and was Chris Evert's sparring partner for 10 years. If it wasn't for my dad, I probably would have never gotten into tennis. My mother and my brother, Matt, have also been huge influences. They supported me when I was at my lowest as well as my highest. My family is my biggest support system, and my biggest cheerleaders."

When Eberhart looks back, she has a lot to smile about.

"Playing tennis was a family sport," Eberhart said. "My mom was a great player and taught my dad how to play. My parents then taught me and my sister how to play. One of my fondest memories of beginning to play tennis was with my dad in Traverse City, Mich., at the age of four on vacation. I remember always wanting to hit `one more.' One more basket of balls of course.

"Winning the singles state championship my sophomore year of high school is definitely my fondest memory, and having my team there to share it with me made the experience even more memorable. High school tennis is what made me fall in love with the team aspect of the sport. My parents have always been big advocates for the balance of strong academics and tennis. ... I would not be where I am today without my supportive family and hard-working coaches."

And it has not taken long for the Knights to make the smooth transition to the college lifestyle. However Eberhart admitted the workouts are different but the upperclassmen's support "makes me want to come back each day knowing I am getting better."

Mendell and Baptista both used the word "overwhelming" when describing their first couple weeks on campus. Yet as the days go on, the experience builds. So when the Knights hit the courts for the UCF Quad Tournament Sept. 28-30, they will definitely be ready.

 

 

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