2011 VCU WOMEN’S TENNIS PREVIEW: NEW FACES, SAME OLD STORY

RICHMOND, Va. – Head Coach Paul Kostin knew that the bringing back of Yana Carollo to his staff would pay dividends to the VCU women's tennis program, but may not have known how quickly it would happen.

Carollo, a former VCU standout herself, was a vital part of the Rams' success last year en route to a CAA Championship, a top-25 ranking and a stellar 20-5 ledger. To get to that point, the Black & Gold used an unbelievably balanced attack led by seniors Laura Burns and Olena Leonchuk.

With Burns and Leonchuk graduated, Carollo and Kostin will go back to the same formula of a balanced attack, but with some new faces donning the Black & Gold.

"It's a game plan that has worked for us for many years, and we think it has the chance to work again this year," Kostin said. "We've had a bunch of All-Americans here and it's not like we don't want them, but for this program, we really think we can do some damage using a really balanced lineup in singles and doubles."

Senior Kateryna Yergina will be a key member of that lineup this spring. The most tenured member of the Black & Gold enters her final campaign with 52 all-time singles wins, which ranks 13th all-time at VCU.

Last year, the Kiev, Ukraine native went 20-6 overall, including a 14-1 mark when playing at the number three spot. She is a two-time All-CAA First-Team member and was named the Most Outstanding Performer at last year's CAA Championships.

"Kateryna has been a rock for us ever since she came to VCU," Kostin said. "It's great for us as a coaching staff to know exactly what we're going to get from her every match. She's going to fight and battle for every win and that's why she's had so much success with us. She just knows how to win."

Along with Yergina, the Rams will rely upon the Bara sisters, Alex (pictured, right) and Ana, who enter their third season in Richmond. Ana has played at the top of VCU's lineup for two years and looks to be contending for that spot yet again this year. Meanwhile, Alex will secure the fourth or fifth spot for the Black & Gold.

Last year, Ana posted 13 wins overall, four of which came at the top spot. The elder Bara sister had a stellar fall with an 8-3 record and is primed for a breakout spring season. Alex had an outstanding sophomore year, posting 26 singles wins to climb in the top-10 single-season wins all-time, including a perfect 9-0 mark at the number five spot.

"Ana and Alex have been great for us and give us two completely different players, but both are extremely talented," Kostin said. "I really feel like they have stepped up as leaders this year and they'll both be vital to our success as a team."

After posting 23 wins in her first season at VCU, sophomore Josefin Hjertquist (pictured, left) earned CAA Rookie of the Year accolades last year. This spring, the Spanga, Sweden native is ready to take another step forward and become an elite level player on the national level.

During the fall season, Hjertquist posted 11 wins and has made her way into the ITA National Rankings at 68th in the country.

"Josefin has unbelievable potential and has worked hard this offseason to continue her development," Kostin said. "She'll play at the top of the lineup, and we'll look for her to pick up some big wins for us this spring."

Two other sophomores, Manuela Pietzuch and Isabel Fernandez, will play vital roles in giving the Black & Gold the balance and depth that has helped VCU capture championships and postseason berths for many years.

Pietzuch went 5-0 last spring, while Fernandez is a mid-year addition that was one of the top-10 juniors in Spain.

A pair of freshman, Daria Yakavleva and Olga Terteac, displayed their potential this past fall, combining for 15 wins for the Rams. Yakavleva came to VCU after ranking as one of the top junior players in all of Belarus, while Terteac is the top player in all of Moldova and is member of the country's Fed Cup squad.

"With all three of our new girls, we really think all of them will have an immediate impact on our program," Kostin said. "Yana did a great job of bringing in players that will win a lot of matches during their time here."

Using this same formula of a balanced lineup from 1-6, the Rams have reached the NCAA Tournament five straight seasons and look to return to the promise land once again this spring.

"This roster has so much depth that it really creates a great environment at practice because everything is so competitive," Kostin said. "With that environment it allows the girls a chance to get better every day, which only leads to more success as the season goes on."

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