Women's tennis aims for return to conference playoffs

HAVERFORD, Pa. – A seasoned Haverford College women's tennis team aims for its fifth straight berth in the Centennial Conference tournament semifinals this spring.

The Fords return their entire varsity lineup from last season's campaign when they went 12-9 overall and 7-3 in Centennial play. Caitlin Gallagher, sharing time at No. 2, topped the team with 15 singles victories including a season-ending 10-match win streak. Alex Ferrara (No. 1) and Kate Donches (No. 3) also registered double-digit wins with 13 and 10, respectively. Head coach Ann Koger, in her 31st year, will also count on veterans Celia Tong (shared time at No .4), Kristen Andersen (5-2 at No. 6), and Abbey Flynn (eight victories while sharing at No. 6) to help make the 2013 campaign a success.

Look for freshman Robyn Himelstein to make an immediate impact in the Haverford lineup. Most likely playing at No. 3 singles, Himelstein demonstrated her skill at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Southeast Regional hosted by the University of Mary Washington during the fall portion of the schedule. Highlighting a strong effort by the Fords, Himelstein and Tong rolled to the championship victory of the Blue 4 doubles bracket. The freshman and senior will strengthen a doubles lineup that boasts Ferrara and Gallagher who won 10 matches at No. 1 doubles last season.

A return trip to the conference tournament will be a challenge as the Fords, ranked 18th in the ITA Atlantic South face a rigorous schedule with three other teams regionally ranked. Johns Hopkins University, defending conference champion, poses a major threat as the Blue Jays enter the season ranked 11th nationally.

The demanding non-conference slate will provide preparation for the Centennial as Haverford welcomes New York University (NYU) and Wilkes University, both regionally ranked, to campus early in the season. A trip to Florida over spring break will offer more experiences for growth against top-notch competition such as St. Lawrence University, ranked 15th in the ITA Northeast Region.

Koger, assisted by Louis Bolling again this season, identifies another berth in the conference tournament as a chief objective for the season and feels "fitness, focus and finesse with tenacity will be the keys to success." The Fords will also concentrate on more competitive aggressiveness this year and look to improve in doubles.

Co-captains Ferrara and Gallagher are brimming with enthusiasm for the promise the season holds. "Between the improved abilities of returning players and the addition of a new talent, we expect to perform very well this season," reflected Ferrara. Sharing Ferrara's excitement is Gallagher who feels the Fords "have not only grown individually as players, but also matured as a team over the off season."

Haverford begins the spring portion of its schedule on Saturday, Feb. 23 when NYU, tied for 20th in the ITA Northeast Region, comes to The Gary Lutnick Tennis & Track Center in Alumni Field House for a 3:30 p.m. contest.