Tracy Lane: We are very much improved from where we were at this point a year ago. I was looking at our individual stats one by one the other day. Even the matches we lost, we were much more competitive and the majority of the losses were in five sets. Even our wins and losses are further along than last fall's records were.
We are excited about the direction of the program and considered ourselves moving up the hill instead of down the hill. We are pleased with where we are heading into the spring.
With that said, we are still an extremely young team. We have two freshmen (Valeriya Makarycheva of Moscow, Russia) with one freshman injured right now (DeAndra Saddler of Alpharetta, Ga.). Then we have four sophomores (Martina Banikova of Kosice, Slovakia, Elna de Villiers of Grunau, Nambia, Tatiana Feit of Neuilly Sur Seine, France and Deniela Juskova of Kosice, France) and one junior (Renee Joseph of Rock Hill, S.C.).
Q What is the injury to Saddler and how does that play into your plans for the spring schedule?
Lane: Well, she has a stressed hip flexor and it bothers her mobility. We knew she had it but it kept re-occurring a couple of times. She has been on and off this semester but hasn't played in three weeks since our tournament in Indiana. That's when we shut her down.
The key is to have her ready in the spring. She can make an immediate impact for our team so we are going to be conservative with her.
Sure, we could have her back out there in our last fall event but she hasn't hit a tennis ball in three weeks. She is currently undergoing double treatment for her injury and we expect her to be okay in the spring. She means a lot to this team.
Q: How disappointing was last year's 3-16 overall mark and 1-10 in the SEC and can this team return to the NCAA postseason?
Lane: Some years you have to overcome a lot of adversity, like us last year, and some years there's not much adversity. What we went through last year, five of our seven players had to experience it. We had a lot of internal problems where the kids had to overcome a lot. The wins and losses are important and we are not proud of just three wins. We started with seven players and finished the year with five. But we learned more about character and learned a lot about ourselves as people and know that we don't want to experience that type of season again. It made us a closer team and are now more committed this year to go back to postseason.
Every year our goal is to make the postseason and do well there. Sometimes at Mississippi State, we have to reload with players to keep those goals and I think this year's team has the potential to make it.
We have to believe in working hard every day and strive to win every time out. If we do that then we have a good shot at playing at that level now.
A lot more goes into a program than hitting the tennis ball. You are dealing with 19-year-olds and younger and dealing with their problems in tennis and life. But now you see the team chemistry is there and we are a closer team because of last year. We understand our roles and goals and ourselves as people and teammates.
So if we stay healthy and work hard every day, we should have a significant number of wins compared to last year.
Last year, we had good days and bad days. The key thing is loving to perform in those crucial situations and loving what you do. You have to love your job.
Q: Just how difficult is it playing in the SEC, which makes up 11 of your spring matches?
Lane: In any given season, 10 SEC teams can be ranked. We've been 10th in the SEC before but ranked 31st in the country. On average, the SEC sends 10 or 11 teams to the postseason and all of those are ranked in the Top 50 nationally.
Saying that, you see how the schedule could help or hurt you. If you are competitive and have a good team, then you can pick up some nice wins.
There are a couple of teams in the league that just have better overall talent. But there are about seven or eight teams that have good depth, anything can happen on any given day and we can win those matches.
(But) we've got to have our players compete at their best ability on a daily basis.
Q: Talk about recruiting for Mississippi State women's tennis.
Lane: When I first came here, I wanted to have a solely American team. When I first got here, we wanted to scope the entire United State and the southern section. But it's hard to get kids from California to come to Mississippi. They have other great schools in their own state. (And) those recruits realize and know of all the other opportunities out there and most can take advantage of those other options in the sport.
(So) we changed our vision the last three or four years. (But) we still focus on the southern section, from Kentucky south to Georgia and Florida.
And there are solid players from there. Joseph is from South Carolina and Saddler from Georgia and they are both Top 20 ranked players in the south. So you go after those types of players and then fill in spots with the international kids.
When you look at the dominant programs like Duke, Georgia and UCLA, they were predominantly American teams a few years ago. But now they are recruiting international kids and you have to compete with those schools.
We want to recruit Americans and in the South. But we need to recruit the international kids and these are good kids. We bring in quality people and develop them into better players.
And development is so key for us in recruiting. We want the cream of the crop but it's hard to get those kids ranked 1-thru-6 in the nation or internationally. So we really have to develop them when they get here.
Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.