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July 22, 2010

2010-11 Season - Youthful Vikings looking forward to season

Senior Tricia Sapio will be one of six letterwinners returning for the 2010-11 women's tennis season. She ended her junior year as the regular at number two singles and posted 13 wins during the campaign.

At first glance, it would appear that Augustana head coach Adam Strand has a major rebuilding operation on his hand for the 2010-11 women’s tennis season. After all, three of the top four singles players on the team graduated in the spring. The trio of Jenna Richardson, Tricia Crawford and Emily Doemland took over 300 (316 to be exact) career victories with them when they marched across the stage at the i-wireless Center in downtown Moline at the graduation ceremony in May.

Strand, who has compiled a record of 51-49 overall and 12-12 in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin through his first four years as the head coach, acknowledges that replacing Richardson (125 wins), Crawford (85) and Doemland (106) will be a challenge. However, he likes the people he has waiting in the wings who are more than ready to accept the challenge.

“When you graduate three seniors who were among your top four players there is no question that there is concern about replacing that,” said Strand who has also fashioned a record of 88-56 overall and 14-11 in the CCIW in five seasons as the men’s head coach. “Jenna, Tricia and Emily did a very nice job of giving our program stability and taking us up to a consistent level. Now the challenge before us is to build on that leadership and continue to move up the ladder.”

Over the past four seasons the Vikings have compiled victory totals of 10 (2006-07), 13 (2007-08), 14 (2008-09) and 14 (2009-10). Already, Strand sees an immediate goal for the 2010-11 team.

“We got to 14 wins each of the last two years,” said Strand. “Now, the immediate goal of this group is to see if we can reach 15 victories and we certainly think that is attainable. We had a great spring after struggling a bit in the fall and we were very happy to go 8-5 over the second portion of the season.”

That run of eight victories in the 13 spring matches allowed the Vikings to reach the .500 mark for the season and finish at 14-14 overall after going just 6-9 in the fall. It is that strong finish that has Strand anxious for the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign.

“We sort of had our backs to the wall coming out of the fall but I was pleased with the focus and commitment we showed in the spring,” he related. “We beat an NCAA Division III national tournament team (Edgewood) by a score of 6-3 in our second-to-last match and we beat two teams (Loras and St. Ambrose) that had defeated us in the fall.”

One of those players who epitomize the progress made during 2009-10 is senior Tricia Sapio (Barrington HS, Hoffman Estates, Ill.). Sapio played at number four singles in the fall but during the spring she climbed up to the number two spot and finished the year with a 13-18 overall record. Sophomore Krista Panko (Geneva HS, Geneva, Ill.) is another who jumped up from the fall to the spring. She held down the number six singles slot in the fall and moved up to number five in the spring. She finished the season tied for second on the team in total singles victories with a 16-10 mark. She trailed Crawford (18-16) and tied with Doemland (16-14).

A third veteran who was in the lineup most of the year is junior Brittany Reece (Neuqua Valley HS, Naperville, Ill.). Reece played fifth singles in the fall and moved to sixth singles in the spring. She was 11-15 overall and she gives the Vikings a solid veteran with plenty of matches under her belt in the lower half of the lineup.

Senior Sheri Hendricks (Wheaton-Warrenville South HS, Warrenville, Ill.) was 3-2 a year ago while sophomore Meghan Wethington (Geneseo HS, Geneseo, Ill.) put up some impressive numbers in her collegiate debut, going 9-4 while playing mostly at number six singles. Another returnee is senior Justine Stukas (Downers Grove North HS, Downers Grove, Ill.) who won her only match last year but lettered as a sophomore in 2008-09 when she posted a 3-9 mark.

Part of Strand’s optimism comes from a large and talented freshman class that was ranked in the top 30 among all NCAA Division III schools according to tennisrecruiting.net. He is anxious to see what the youngsters can do.

“There is no question that we will have some freshmen in our lineup,” said Strand, who will have a roster of 23 players, of which 10 will be freshmen. “We know that there is always an adjustment period for first year players so part of the key to our success will be how fast that group grows up. My guess is that it will come pretty quickly.”