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April 18, 2006

SEC Tournament Notes in PDF Format
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April 20-23 • Gainesville, Fla.
Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex

Florida is hosting the 2006 SEC Women’s Tennis Tournament for the third time in its history at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex over April 20-23 in Gainesville, Fla. All 12 teams compete in the event, with the top four schools in the regular-season standings receiving first-round byes. The team that wins the tournament will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The eighth-seeded Gamecocks will play No. 9 seed Mississippi in the first round of the tournament Thursday at 10 a.m. on the Varsity Courts. USC defeated Ole Miss 4-3 during the regular season, but the Lady Rebels still lead the all-time series 12-8.

Only two teams have ever won the SEC Tournament. Florida owns the most SEC titles with 22 in 26 years, and Georgia has five. The two teams shared the title in 1990. In 1980 and 1981, and from 1984 to 1989, the SEC champion was determined by the accumulation of points in an individual flighted tournament. In 1982 and 1983, the SEC experimented with the team dual match format in the conference tournament. The winner was crowned SEC champion, however, after a two-year trial, the SEC went back to a points system in an individual flighted tournament. In 1990, the SEC brought back the team dual match format for the conference tournament and a points system that included regular-season performance was put in place to determine the SEC champion. From 1990 to 1999, the SEC champion was determined by total aggregate points accumulated at the conclusion of the conference tournament. Starting with the 2000 season, the SEC began crowning a regular-season and tournament champion.

Last year’s SEC Tournament was hosted by Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Kentucky was the regular-season champion with a 10-1 record and held the No. 1 seed. Defending champion Florida was seeded third, but managed to defeat South Carolina in the quarterfinals 4-0 and then upended No. 2 seed Vanderbilt 4-1. In the championship, the Gators downed Kentucky 4-2 to win their fourth-straight title.

Mississippi posted a nearly identical record to South Carolina, going 11-8 overall and 4-7 in SEC play. The Lady Rebels’ four SEC victories came against the likes of Auburn (5-2), LSU (5-0), Tennessee (4-3) and Mississippi State (6-1). Ole Miss has a pair of 20-match winners on the season with Kseniia Tokarieva and Ilona Somers. Tokarieva leads the team in victories thanks to a 24-6 record and was 16-3 in dual matches, which included an 8-3 SEC slate. Somers finished 20-9 and 12-5 in duals with a 6-5 conference record.

In the 2006 regular season, USC opened league competition 2-0 after a 4-3 victory in Oxford, Miss., marking the third match in a row between the two schools in which the winning margin was one point. The Gamecocks have won two straight against the Lady Rebels and six of the past seven meetings, however, Mississippi still leads the all-time series 12-8. The last time USC and UM met in the SEC Tournament was in the first round in 2004 in Nashville, Tenn. Mississippi won by a 4-3 margin, at the time handing South Carolina just its second first-round loss in 13 SEC Tournament appearances.

South Carolina head coach Arlo Elkins is in his 23rd year at the helm of USC women’s tennis, which makes him the most tenured among all active coaches in the Southeastern Conference. Jeff Wallace of Georgia and Mike Patrick at Tennessee are tied for second with 21 years as head coaches, and LSU’s Tony Minnis is fourth with 15 years. Kentucky’s Carlos Drada is the least experienced coach among the 12 SEC schools, as 2006 is his first year as a head coach.

The Gamecocks’ top two players this season have been freshmen Gira Schofield and Natasa Vuckovic, who secure No. 1 and No. 2 singles. Schofield has notched several impressive victories this season for South Carolina, including four against opponents who were ranked in the top 50 at the time of the matches. Vuckovic has knocked off two opponents who were top 100 when the matches were played. The two have teamed up at the No. 1 doubles position for much of the season as well.

Injuries have certainly hurt the Gamecocks this season. Three players had surgery last fall or in the summer and two went down with severe ankle sprains during the dual match season. Against Georgia on March 10, junior Laura Ganzer rolled her ankle charging the net for a short ball and has not played singles since. Ganzer played two doubles matches, but was unable to go at her usual spot of No. 4 singles. The week following Ganzer’s injury, senior Danielle Wiggins suffered a sprained ankle during practice that kept her out of USC’s final eight matches. Wiggins was playing No. 3 singles and, like Ganzer, was a key component for the Gamecocks’ efforts in doubles. She quit the team for personal reasons following the conclusion of the regular season. Since Ganzer’s injury, USC has lost three SEC matches by a 4-3 score.

South Carolina’s 6-1 victory over Winthrop on March 19 marked the 350th career win for head coach Arlo Elkins. Now in his 23rd season as the leader of the Gamecocks, Elkins earned his 100th victory at South Carolina with a 9-0 shutout over N.C. State on Jan. 20, 1990. Win No. 200 came March 24, 1996, in a 5-4 victory versus Vanderbilt, and USC’s first victory of the 2003 season over Charleston on Jan. 29 gave Elkins his 300th triumph with the Garnet and Black.

Freshman Natasa Vuckovic was South Carolina’s lone SEC Player of the Week award winner during the 2006 season. She was given the honor Feb. 7 after winning three singles matches the week prior against Furman, Michigan and Maryland.

The Gamecocks have made 11 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament and have won their opening-round match 12 straight times. South Carolina’s last defeat in the first round came against BYU by a 5-4 score in 1988. USC has made a total of 15 showings in the NCAA Tournament, which began in 1982. The Gamecocks made their best showing at NCAAs in the first year of the event’s existence by reaching the quarterfinals.

South Carolina’s women’s tennis team consistently has one of the top team GPAs among all of USC’s athletic teams. Last season, the Gamecocks had eight players make the SEC Academic Honor Roll. The team had a cumulative GPA of 3.369 for the fall and boasted a 3.469 for the spring semester. Redshirt sophomore Grace Blakely is the academic star of the team having made the SEC Honor Roll the past two years, as well as the Dean’s List for fall 2003 and 2005 and spring 2004. She was named to the President’s List for fall 2004 and spring 2005. Blakely’s additional academic honors include: USC Honors College; McNair Scholar; Thomas Markham Scholar for Science and Math; Outstanding New Student Leader Award; Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Undergraduate Fellowship; and Carpe Diem Foundation National Scholarship Semifinalist. Blakely also scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT prior to becoming a Gamecock.

Below is a listing of how South Carolina has performed in the SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks have advanced to at least the quarterfinals in 12 of the 14 tournaments in which they have participated. South Carolina has received a first-round bye three times (1996, 1999, 2002) and reached at least the semifinals on two of those occasions (1999, 2002). USC’s best showing was in 2002 when it hosted the tourney for the first and only time in school history and lost 4-0 to Florida in the championship.

1992 • Tuscaloosa, Ala.
First Round: def. Mississippi State, 7-2
Quarterfinals: lost Tennessee, 5-1

1993 • Nashville, Tenn.
First Round: lost Vanderbilt, 5-1

1994 • Fayetteville, Ark.
First Round: def. LSU, 5-2
Quarterfinals: lost Kentucky, 5-2

1995 • Auburn, Ala.
First Round: def. Arkansas, 6-0
Quarterfinals: def. Vanderbilt, 5-1
Semifinals: lost Florida, 5-0

1996 • Gainesville, Fla.
Quarterfinals: lost Georgia, 5-4

1997 • Athens, Ga.
First Round: def. Arkansas, 5-3
Quarterfinals: lost Florida, 5-1

1998 • Lexington, Ky.
First Round: def. Mississippi State, 6-3
Quarterfinals: lost Georgia, 5-1

1999 • Baton Rouge, La.
Quarterfinals: def. Vanderbilt, 5-3
Semifinals: lost Florida, 5-1

2000 • Baton Rouge, La.
1st Round: def. Auburn, 5-2
Quarterfinals: lost Vanderbilt, 5-3

2001 • Starkville, Miss.
1st Round: def. Auburn, 4-1
Quarterfinals: lost Georgia, 4-1

2002 • Columbia, S.C.
Quarterfinals: def. Tennessee, 4-1
Semifinals: def. Georgia, 4-2
Final: lost Florida, 4-0

2003 • Knoxville, Tenn.
First Round: def. Auburn, 4-1
Quarterfinals: lost Georgia, 4-0

2004 • Nashville, Tenn.
First Round: lost Mississippi, 4-3

2005 • Tuscaloosa, Ala.
First Round: def. Arkansas, 4-1
Quarterfinals: lost Florida, 4-0