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It's a Great Time to be a Gamecock
Women's Tennis  . 

It's a Great Time to be a Gamecock

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

It’s a great time to be excited about South Carolina women’s tennis. The Gamecocks are coming off a record-setting year that elevated an already outstanding program into the realm of the national elite.
Kevin  Epley

South Carolina was only the fifth team in the history of Southeastern Conference to win the league’s tournament since the competition began in 1990. Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are the only other programs to have ever taken the trophy home. What makes it more impressive is that the Gamecocks defeated all three of the previous tournament winners in succession to earn the title, including a thrilling win over No. 1 ranked and previously undefeated Georgia in the championship match. 

“This really sets us apart in terms of getting attention,” said head coach Kevin Epley. “Now everybody knows South Carolina is a serious contender on the national stage.”

After advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals, or Elite Eight, for the third time in school history, the Gamecocks finished the year ranked No. 5, the highest final ranking in program history. Fans in the local community have been taking notice as well. The South Carolina Tennis Center is regularly filled with Gamecock fans and tennis enthusiasts who have learned just how good college tennis is.

“There has been a lot of exposure in the media for us this year,” Epley said. “The word is getting out. I can feel it around town. It’s becoming something that people know. They get to a match and they see the intensity of these young ladies on the court. They hear a player screaming at the top of her lungs after a point, and they’re thinking, ‘whoa, what is this?’ There is a certain intensity at the matches that people are really taken by. You see that competitive spirit and really draws you in.

“When we had the (NCAA) super regional, there was a standing ovation when we won. We’ve never had that before. It is definitely growing, and we hope to keep it going. This is the second biggest tennis community in the south behind Atlanta. We want to see it get bigger and bigger.”

“We have a very concrete system of development.”
– Kevin  Epley

Mia  Horvit & Ingrid  Martins

Epley was honored by his peers as the SEC Coach of the Year, the ITA Carolina Region Coach of the Year, and the National Coach of the Year in 2019. While he was humbled to earn the awards, he is proud that others are seeing he and assistant coach Jeff Nevolo, who was the 2018 ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year, for their ability to make good players better.

“Teams such as Duke and North Carolina are in that region, and they’re both ranked ahead of us. So, getting that kind of recognition was nice,” Epley said. “Georgia was No. 1 most of the year, so getting the SEC award was really nice. I think people have become aware of what we have accomplished in developing players. Everyone knows our teams have been doing well the last few years, so it’s been building.”

Seniors Ingrid Martins and Paige Cline, along with junior Mia Horvit earned All-America honors. Martins and Horvit were semifinalists at the 2019 NCAA Doubles Championships and were ranked No. 1 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s end-of-year doubles poll, with Martins also taking home National Senior Player of the Year honors. Martins finished the year ranked No. 4 nationally in singles, while Cline was No. 23.

“We had a lot of success last year, and the word is getting out that we’re developing players,” Epley said. “There was a training camp type of feel that the seniors and the ones before them went through. We did some very difficult drilling to toughen them up. When the newer kids came in, that expectation of toughness was built in. So, they didn’t know anything other than that. The group that went through that has cycled out and graduated. We’re going to have to start that again.

“The four that are already here will be going through that for the first time. In each incremental step of the program’s culture, the new people always have to fit in to where the culture is. That includes the intensity of the practice culture. It becomes a standard. When a kid comes in and sees that this is how it is, then she just has to do it. Each year has been very progressive and there are new challenges. This group that is coming back came in when we were turning over ownership of the standards and goals, and the accountability of that to the girls.”

While the Gamecocks will miss their three seniors, and the returning players will have to take on more of leaderships role, expectations will not diminish as South Carolina welcomes in the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation.

“We’re really excited about having a great recruiting class, but that’s just a starting point,” Epley said. “It’s easy for the kids to get immersed in whatever is going on. While it is the top recruiting class, there are so many of them, they will be the majority on the team. They’re going to be questioning things, I suppose. They’ll go through some of the growing pains of what college tennis is all about because it is tougher than junior tennis, particularly in the SEC. The day to day work, consistency, and being a part of a team is something they will have to learn.

“We have a very concrete system of development. We know exactly what stage they’re going to be in. We’ll show them the standards they need to have in order to be successful. We’ll make sure they make all those steps. It’s not so much about success coming in and whether you will be successful; it’s about telling them, ‘you’re here, now it’s time to get to work.'”