Inexperience dots Lady Bobcat tennis roster

Written By: Shawn Wansley
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Date Submitted: 2011-02-21 21:17:37

 By Shawn Wansley

JCJC Sports Information Director

ELLISVILLE – Jones County Junior College has enjoyed tremendous success in recent years when it comes to women’s tennis.

The Lady Bobcats have captured two straight MACJC state championships. Last year, they posted a 17-1 record, finished second in the Region 23 Tournament and advanced to the NJCAA Division I Women’s Tournament for the sixth time in seven years.

But if that trend is to continue, five freshmen will have to step up and play well in 2011.

“We lost a large number of players and we have only one player returning,” said 12th year head coach Mark Easley. “We lost a lot with that graduating class. But we’ve got a solid bunch coming in this year.”

The lone returning player is a good one.

George County sophomore Arlette Cochran claimed the No. 5 singles consolation round in the national tournament in Tucson, Ariz., last year and helped the Lady Bobcats finished 18th in the nation, the highest ranking ever for the program. She was also a member of the 2010 JCJC women’s soccer team, which won the state championship.

“Arlette has been there before,” Easley said. “She is such a fighter and competitor. She hates to lose, whether it’s in the classroom or on the soccer field or on the tennis court. She is a battler and you just have to love the way she plays. She played No. 5 last year, but she will have to step up three spots and be our No. 2 this year.

“She will do fine. With her attitude and the way she works, she will win a lot of matches just on true grit and toughness. She will struggle against some of the international players because of their power, but she will have a good season.”

At the No. 1 singles slot will be West Jones freshman Rachel Jefcoat. Easley said she was a strong player in high school and will be effective on the junior college level, too.

“Rachel just has to accept the challenge of playing some really, really good girls and she will hold her own with them,” he said. “She will struggle against some of the international players, but she has a good attitude and is a good worker. She will have a successful season and she will win the matches she is supposed to win.”

Gautier freshman Brandy Freeman will hold down the No. 3 position.

“Brandy and Arlette are just about carbon copies of each other because of their styles of play,” Easley said. “When they play each other, they have long matches. They hit the ball the same way and there is a lot of placement with the way they play. Brandy will do fine at No. 3 with that style of play. Again, she is another super competitor.”

Northeast Jones freshman Alison Rudolph is at the No. 4 singles slot.

“Alison is another fighter and just battles for everything,” Easley said. “She has made herself a good tennis player and she will only improve. It will be a learning experience for her, but Alison will give herself a chance to win a lot of matches. She gives great effort and is another tough player.”

Lumberton freshman Lauren Carpenter is at No. 5 singles. She is a sophomore academically after sitting out last year.

“Lauren has good strokes, but it’s just a matter of being consistent,” Easley said. “She has some of the best strokes on the team. But she needs to get back in the swing of things because the lack of practice time has hurt her. But I look for Lauren to get better as the season progresses.”

Amber Long, a freshman from South Jones, will be at No. 6 singles.

“Amber is a super girl and joined us at Christmas,” Easley said. “Amber is like the other girls – she is going to fight and give herself a chance to win points at the No. 6 spot. It’s all about the same thing for all of the players –  consistency. You can’t beat yourself and you have to put points away when you have a chance and I think Amber will do that.”

As a group, Easley likes his team. He said they are all supportive of each other and get along well with each other.

“All six girls are good friends with each other,” he said. “They have a great work ethic and great attitudes. They are all mentally tough and physically tough, too.”

Easley is confident his team will get better as the season goes along. He believes the more they play, they better should be by season’s end.

“Every year at this time, it’s kind of the same thing. We have a lot of unknowns,” he said. “The weather up until a week or so ago has been pretty bad with the ice and the cold. We were not able to get on the courts as much as we would have liked to do, but it’s been good this past week or so.

“Hopefully, from this point on, we can practice like we need to every day.”

Easley said the inexperience is a factor, but the newcomers have talent. He points out that they won numerous matches in the prep ranks and they have performed well in preseason scrimmages.

“We’ve got some hard working girls, girls who were very successful in high school,” he said. “But this is a different level now and they are going to have to adjust to that. But we are always excited about any upcoming season.

“We’ve had a couple of scrimmages a week apart and I think we competed much better in the second one. They just needed to get some of that nervousness out of their system. But that’s just natural for them.”

Easley knows last year’s Lady Bobcat sophomores – Tiffany Hudson, Meredith Johnson, Mary Carole Kiewit, Jillian McNeese and Rebecca Rogers – were a special group and posted tremendous numbers.

“Last year, we thought we would do well because we had so many coming back,” he said. “We were expected to have a good season and we did. But with all the freshmen this year, it’s kind of an anxious time for us. We just need to see how they react.”

Nevertheless, Easley expects this year’s Lady Bobcats to compete just as hard as the teams in past years.

“Our goal is to be successful, just like it is every year,” he said. “Of course, it depends on what the other teams have, too. But we need to try and control what we can do and play as well as we can and build on the success we’ve had. Does that mean another state championship? I don’t know.

“Does it mean another trip to nationals? That’s what they are wanting, but we just will have to play the matches and see what happens.”

The Lady Bobcats open the season at home at 2 p.m. on Feb. 28 against Northeast Mississippi Community College. The MACJC State Tournament will be April 14-16 at Mississippi College in Clinton and the Region 23 Tournament will be April 19-20 in Meridian.

The national tournament will be May 6-13 in Tucson, Ariz.


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