Otahks try to shake past with new faces

Friday, September 24, 2004

Southeast Missouri State University's new-look women's tennis team begins a brief fall schedule today with a rejuvenated outlook that second-year coach Jay Pacelli hopes will pay off in the form of a strong spring season.

The Otahkians have ranked among the Ohio Valley Conference's worst squads for much of the past decade -- they have not had a winning overall record since 1997 -- but Pacelli is hopeful of a turnaround.

"I'm optimistic," said Pacelli, whose squad competes in the Aces Fall Classic at Evansville University today and Saturday, one of three fall tournaments before the primary spring season begins in late January. "I certainly expect to make great strides."

Pacelli took over Southeast's program last year too late to do much recruiting, so he was not surprised by the Otahkians' 1-21 record, which included a 10th place finish among 11 OVC squads.

"Last year was tough. I knew it would be," he said. "Any time a coach takes over a program, especially one that has not been successful, the first year will be tough."

But Pacelli has brought in what he believes are six strong newcomers to go along with four returning players.

Leading the group of first-year performers are freshmen twins Bryce and Drew Kristal, both decorated junior players from California. Pacelli expects them to hold down the top two singles positions and form Southeast's No. 1 doubles team.

"They were a nationally ranked doubles team. They're very accomplished players," Pacelli said.

Another touted newcomer is sophomore Ashley Hooper, a transfer from Nicholls State and a native of Canada. Pacelli also expects her to play near the top of the lineup.

Rounding out the rookies are freshmen Kim Roberts from Canada, Puja Paul from India and Miranda Petrea, an Illinois native.

"Those three also have a lot of potential," Pacelli said.

Returning players are Daniela Garcia, the squad's lone senior who hails from Peru and missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, along with three sophomores: Kim Anderson from Jackson High School, Kolby Hoebing from Illinois and Beckie Prendergast from Wisconsin.

Pacelli said Garcia should contend for a spot in the middle to upper part of the lineup, as should Anderson, who played either first or second singles last season. Hoebing was the Otahkians' No. 3 player a year ago while Prendergast held down the No. 6 spot.

"Daniela is healthy now and it's great to have her back," Pacelli said. "Kim has improved tremendously, and Kolby and Beckie have also improved."

With such a young group -- there are five freshmen and four sophomores -- Pacelli is not about to predict that the Otahkians are quite ready to challenge the OVC's elite programs, although that's his ultimate goal. Still, he likes their potential.

"We're very young and we'll still have growing pains, but we do have talent," Pacelli said. "I'm not putting us in the top of the OVC right now, but I expect us to be competitive against everybody."

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