One word describes this year’s ASU tennis team: young.
After six preseason tournaments, the Sun Devils look to upperclassmen leadership to lead a core of young, talented underclassmen.
All-American junior Jacqueline Cako, seniors Hannah James and Nicole Smith are the only upperclassmen.
The rest of the team includes sophomores Clare Frye, Joanna Smith and Leighann Sahagun and freshmen Desirae Krawczyk, Stephanie Vlad and Ebony Panoho.
“I like the group, but we’re certainly a work in progress,” coach Sheila McInerney said.
James also feels that this team could be something special.
“This is probably one of the best teams we’ve had since I’ve been here,” she said. “We had a great team when I came in as a freshman, but I think this (team) is just equally good, if not better. All the girls, we bond so well, and we’ve all improved so much in the fall semester. It’s incredible.”
The Sun Devils have competed in six different preseason tournaments in Michigan and California to help them prepare for the regular season.
Although the early tournaments do not affect the team’s standings too much, they give a chance for the younger players to improve.
“Those tournaments, you don’t really take too much stock in them,” McInerney said. “I think we’ve improved a lot. I think we’ve gained some confidence since the fall.”
Freshman Krawczyk got some attention early by taking second at ASU’s own Thunderbird Invitational in November.
The finish helped to give her some swagger leading up to the team’s first match on Jan. 19 against NAU.
“I had my confidence up. I was like, ‘Maybe I can hang with these players,’” Krawczyk said. “It was nice to know I could be up there with the top players.”
McInerney thinks the freshmen will be big contributors.
“I think we have a really good freshman class,” McInerney said. “Those three are going to really help us a lot.”
A lot will be riding on the freshmen this year, but it isn’t going to faze Krawczyk.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Krawczyk said. “I’m just doing my best out here. … I’m looking forward to (the season).”
The Thunderbird Invitational boasted a lot of young talent for the Sun Devils. In addition to Krawczyk’s performance, Vlad made it to the quarterfinals before being bounced.
Sahagun made it to the second round of the Thunderbird Invitational before being eliminated. Sophomore Joanna Smith won two matches in the consolation bracket after being knocked out in the first round of the championship bracket.
Cako will look to improve on an already stellar career in which she earned All-American honors twice, was named second-team All-Pac-12 last year and finished second in this year’s ITA All-American Championships.
The road to a Pac-12 title will not be easy with four Pac-12 teams ranked in the preseason top 10: No. 2 UCLA, No. 4 USC, No. 5 Stanford and No. 7 Cal.
The team opens the 2013 season Jan. 19 against NAU at ASU’s Whiteman Tennis Center. It plays at home again on Jan. 20 against UC Davis.
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