By Dalton Ray–
After losing two of the greatest players in program history, the Louisville women’s tennis team will turn to a group of underclassmen to continue success. Multi year all-conference players Rebecca Shine and Julia Fellerhoff both graduated last year after a disappointing loss in the AAC Conference Championship. The 2014 team will consist of five freshman, four sophomores and one senior.
The team’s lone senior is Manuela Velazquez who has over 20 wins in her time as a Cardinal. Along with the wins, Velazquez is a two-time winner of the Wake Forest Invitational and one time champ in the Ohio State Invitational, all in doubles. She has also earned a lot of respect and applause from head coach Mark Beckham.
“She has been through quite a bit, but when it’s time to compete, she’s always ready to go. I really can’t appreciate someone more than I do her. She puts it on the line. She knows the grind, and I know I don’t have to worry about her.”
Sophomores Chloe Willetts, Elle Stokes, Cassie Pough and Olivia Boesing will be leaned on this year because of the experience they gained last year. Pough was the winner of the Green and White Invitational Flight last season as well as being a Red and Black Scholar Athlete. Stokes and Boesing, along with Pough, all made it to the main draw in the ITA Ohio Valley Regional tournament.
Coach Beckham said this year’s group of freshmen is the best recruiting class he’s ever brought to The Ville. Additionally, coach Beckham knows he’s going to ask a lot of this class. The group of five is made up of Ariana Rodriguez, Jessie Lynn Paul, Ola Mally, Caroline Walter and Ellie Garlach. Walter and Garlach both hail from Louisville’s own Scared Heart and Christian Academy.
“With the freshmen, I’m going to have to put a lot on their plate but still realize they are young. They just haven’t been through anything. I know they’re going to be very good; I just have to be patient with them,” coach Beckham said about his incoming class.
Manuela Velazquez’s leadership will be huge for this team as they head into one of the nation’s hardest conferences. Coach Beckham spoke about her demeanor when it comes to not letting her emotion affect her play in a negative way. He hopes this mindset rubs off on the team’s nine underclassmen.
As of Jan. 6, the ACC has seven teams ranked in the top 20 in the country according to ITA. Number two Duke, number four North Carolina and number six Virginia are the conference’s highest rated teams. The Blue Devils and Tarheels finished second and third in the nation last season. Along with team talent, the players will face a higher individual talent as the ACC has fifteen players in the top 70. Of the nation’s top 60 doubles teams, twelve reside in the ACC.
Manuela Velazquez says she and the team are very excited to play in the ACC because it is a chance to play in the nation’s best conference. She also had an interesting take on how this season will play for the freshmen and how she looks to cap off her career.
“This year will be very bitter sweet for me. I’m looking forward to finishing my last year at Louisville. I’ve had such fun, and it’s been an honor to represent this team, the coaches and the program. This will be a good way for the freshmen to start their career…in a way because they haven’t played in any other conferences. I think they’ll be fine.”
With so many underclassmen being pushed into playing time against some of the nation’s hardest competition, the Cardinals might be forced to take some lumps this season. With the experience they earned this year mixed with leadership learned from Velazquez, the team has much promise in the years to come.
Photo by Austin Lassell / The Louisville Cardinal