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Ranked No. 5 in the country, Gamecocks women’s tennis on the brink of history

South Carolina women’s tennis coach Kevin Eppley talks to his team before the single’s matches during the first round of the NCAA Regionals women’s tennis tournament in Columbia, SC.
South Carolina women’s tennis coach Kevin Eppley talks to his team before the single’s matches during the first round of the NCAA Regionals women’s tennis tournament in Columbia, SC. tdominick@thestate.com

South Carolina’s women’s tennis team is on the brink of history and frankly, they’re doing it in a rather unorthodox way.

The Gamecocks head into this weekend’s SEC Tournament in College Station, Texas as the No. 2 seed behind Georgia. They’re ranked No. 5 in the country and have won seven matches in a row since a 4-2 loss to the Bulldogs on March 17.

With the NCAA postseason looming, South Carolina hopes a “less is more” approach serves them as they try to surpass last season’s Sweet 16 run.

“There are a lot of things I think we do differently,” coach Kevin Epley said. “We’ve changed our approach from a more strenuous one to one more related to overall fitness and focusing on the next task at hand. We use a heart monitor to gauge things on the fitness side. Then we have a lot if individual and team meetings to discuss what are goals and expectations are.”

Senior Paige Cline thinks that approach has been very beneficial. The recovery time of playing an intense SEC schedule has been the biggest asset.

“When I came in as a freshman, it was more of a no pain, no gain type of approach,” Cline, the No. 23 ranked player by Intercollegiate Tennis Association singles poll. “We didn’t take our recovery time as seriously. We focus now on the more mental aspects and making sure we’re ready for the next task at hand.”

The Gamecocks just completed a second straight season of going undefeated on the road. That is something that Epley believes is a result of the new-found process along with the fact this group of players like it when the crowd is against them.

“We have a more controlled emotion on the road,” Epley said. “We get away from the distractions of playing at home and I think that helps us to keep focus on the next task at hand. We have a very loud and competitive group and they seem to love having the crowd against them. They seem to play with a chip on their shoulder on the road.”

The Gamecocks have never won the SEC Tournament title – or the regular season title for that matter. But they sit at 17-3 overall and less than a week ago posted the first win over Florida in 27 years. The confidence level continues to rise.

“We like to have a challenge mindset,” Cline said. “Being on the road presents an opportunity to overcome. We’re nearing a portion of the season now where we understand the next time out could be our last. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and honing the culture but we’re definitely looking to go out with a bang.”

Talent abounds on a roster with three seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.

Senior Ingrid Martins, who has played in the No. 1 spot, is No. 4 in the latest ITA rankings with a 23-6 overall record. Cline comes in with the highest ranking of her career at No. 23 with a 19-6 record. Junior Mia Horvit is ranked No. 84 in the country with a 19-5 mark.

The doubles team of Martins and Horvit are No. 1 in the country this week with an overall record of 22-4. Senior Rachel Rohrabacher and sophomore Megan Davies sit at No. 37 with an 11-7 record.

“We knew this type of season was possible with what we did last year and what we had coming back,” Epley said. “Our goal has been to do well in the SEC’s and let that carry over to the NCAA Tournament. We think we have the pieces in place to make a deep run.”

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