2012 CLAYTON STATE WOMEN’ TENNIS PREVIEW
Le'Trone Mason could not have asked for or dreamed about the situation he inherited last season when he took over as the women's head coach tennis coach at Clayton State.
Like the stars aligning in the sky, Mason was given a talented team to begin with, and all he did was make the Lakers even better. The result was an 18-8 overall record and the team advancing to the NCAA Division II "Final Four" for the first time in program history. It was a season that Mason will not soon forget in his young coaching career at Clayton State.
"Words really cannot explain it," said Mason. "I was so happy for the girls, especially the seniors. Whenever a new coach comes in, it's always that touchy-feely area where are they going to accept what you say or go against the grain.
"But from the beginning, they believed in what I was preaching and bought into the system and it worked very well."
With that magical first season behind him, Mason has all the ingredients for another impressive run for Clayton State in the 2012 season. The Lakers return five top-quality players from last season, and have added two key recruits that will blend in nicely in the lineup.
Clayton State starts the season ranked seventh in the nation in Division II – its highest preseason national ranking in program history.
"The expectations are still extremely high," Mason said. "All the girls that came back have shown tremendous improvement in their game from this point last season to now."
It starts in singles, where junior Ivana Krommelova moves up to the No. 1 position after two stellar seasons at No. 3. An All-Peach Belt Conference and ITA Division II All-American last season in doubles, Krommelova has also played in some big matches in singles in her career. She is coming off a 2011 season in which she finished 14-5 overall and 8-3 in the Peach Belt Conference.
The big battle will be for the No. 2 and No. 3 positions involving returning senior starter Marie Cercelletti and freshman newcomer Hannah Keeling. Cercelletti went 16-6 in singles play last season with a 9-3 mark in the Peach Belt, while Keeling has shown tremendous promise during the preseason and is making a strong case for the No. 2 position.
"Ivana has stepped up her game well in preparing for the role as the No. 1 player," Mason said. "Hannah is everything I thought she would be and then some so. Playing higher in the lineup will put some pressure on her. With Marie, she has that experience and crafty game that makes her dangerous because she can work through things."
Sophomore Martina Dedaj moves up from the No. 5 to No. 4 position after finishing 10-12 overall, but 8-4 in Peach Belt action, while junior Charlotte Fabricius may be the Lakers' most improved player overall moving up from No. 6 to No. 5. Fabricius finished 9-9 overall, but 7-2 in the Peach Belt, and Mason believes she has elevated her game from a straight baseline player to a more serve and volley style to go with that baseline game.
Senior Alyze' Pagal, a transfer from Division I Eastern Kentucky, gives the Lakers that needed experience at No. 6, giving Clayton State and solid lineup from No. 1 through No. 6. Also, junior Jessica Budd has that key experience to fill in when needed either in singles or doubles.
"From when I got here, Charlotte did not want to see any parts of the net," Mason said. "Now, she's cracking the ball and she's coming into the net a lot more ready to volley. She is getting more comfortable with that.
"Most the critical spots are the No. 5 and No. 6 spots in singles and No. 3 doubles. So if we can deep in the lineup, it will be easier."
Doubles is set with Krommelova and Cercelletti at No. 1. That duo is ranked No. 15 in the nation in Division II. The No. 2 position will feature Keeling and Dedaj, while Fabricius and Pagal will get the call at No. 3. This is arguably one of the more balanced doubles line-up for Clayton State in recent seasons.
Mason has put together yet another tremendous schedule for the Lakers, highlighted by neutral site matches against Division II top-ranked Lynn on March 3 and No. 2-ranked BYU-Hawaii on March 24. Clayton State opens Peach Belt Conference play on Feb. 26 at home against Georgia Southwestern. The 2012 season starts on Feb. 4 at home against defending NAIA National Champion Auburn-Montgomery.
"I am putting together a schedule that will help us rise to a higher level," Mason said. "I want Clayton State to be mentioned with those national powers each season in Division II tennis."