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March 27, 2008

1515274.jpeg LSU Live Scoring 1515274.jpeg Arkansas Live Scoring

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The No. 34-rated Gamecock women’s tennis team (10-5, 3-3 SEC) faces two of the SEC West’s top teams in No. 27 LSU and No. 13 Arkansas on Friday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 11 a.m. at Maxcy Gregg Tennis Center in Columbia, S.C.

South Carolina won a pair of critical SEC matches last week, upending Mississippi State at home 6-1 Friday and then earning a 4-3 victory at Ole Miss on Sunday. Natasa Vuckovic clinched the win over the Lady Rebels and ended the week with a 2-0 record for singles and doubles. In doing so, she also became just the seventh Gamecock in school history to post three consecutive 20-win seasons in singles play. Vuckovic, a two-time All-SEC Team member, is 20-9 this season and 10-5 in duals.

Doubles play for the Gamecocks has improved dramatically over the past three matches, a timeframe in which South Carolina is a combined 7-2 at the three spots. The Gamecocks’ No. 2 and No. 3 teams are a perfect 6-0 with Megan McGavock and Suzanna Mansour playing two and Vuckovic and Jelena Rajic playing three. Carolina’s top duo of Gira Schofield and Ana Marija Zubori, currently the nation’s No. 33 tandem, are looking to get back on track as losers of five of their last six matches.

In addition to Vuckovic, the Gamecocks have three other players with at least 20 wins in singles. McGavock leads the team with a 21-8 record, while Schofield is 20-10 and Miljana Jocic is 20-8. Zubori is just one win away from joining the club at 19-7. Schofield and Zubori have national singles rankings as well of 44th and 75th.

LSU (10-6, 3-3) comes into Friday’s contest fresh off victories against Colorado and Southern in a Wednesday double-header. The Tigers lost to Tennessee on Sunday 6-1 in Baton Rouge in their last conference match and were beaten at Georgia and Vanderbilt prior to the UT contest. LSU started conference play defeating Alabama, Auburn and Kentucky.

The Tigers boast one of the nation’s elite players in Megan Falcon, who is currently ranked No. 19. She is 19-4 overall and 11-2 at the No. 1 singles position. The 2007 SEC Player of the Year entered last fall as the top-ranked player in the nation and competed in the Pan American Games during the summer. Falcon went 38-3 in 2006-07 with LSU and also reached the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championship.

Arkansas is enjoying one its most successful seasons since joining the SEC with South Carolina in 1991-92. The Lady Razorbacks suffered through three consecutive 0-11 seasons with the conference from 2002 to 2004 and were 4-7 last season. 2008 has been a different story, as Arkansas has gone 12-5 overall and is off to a 5-1 start in SEC matches.

One big reason for the Lady’Backs’ success is they have the nation’s current No. 1-ranked player in Aurelija Miseviciute, who has an incredible record of 41-3 so far in 2007-08. During the fall, she won the Wilson/ITA Central Regional Championships and then claimed the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships, the second of three grand slams in college tennis. Her doubles record is impressive this season as well at 25-8, and she is currently ranked No. 32 in the nation playing with Ela Kaluder.

While Miseviciute has been a large part of Arkansas’ resurgence, she is not the only one putting up solid numbers. Kaluder, who is ranked No. 122 in singles, has gone 11-6 in dual matches playing the majority of the time at two singles. Audrey Bordeleau is 28-7 in singles and 14-2 in duals, which includes a 10-1 mark at the No. 6 spot, and she is ranked No. 50 in doubles with Anouk Tigu. Nanar Airapetian has been an important member of the lineup as well, going 10-6 in duals and 7-3 at five singles. She and Maryori Franco are 10-1 at No. 2 doubles, while Bordeleau and Tigu are 12-1 at three.

The series histories between the three teams clearly favors the Gamecocks, but given the firepower LSU and Arkansas possess, South Carolina has its work cut out for it. The Gamecocks are 17-3 all-time against the Lady Razorbacks, winning 7-0 last year in Fayetteville, Ark., but Arkansas did beat Carolina 4-3 in Columbia in 2006. South Carolina is 16-2 versus LSU and has not lost at home to the Tigers since the two teams first played in 1985.