HARRISONBURG, Va. - The James Madison women's tennis team is ready to start the second half of its season on Jan. 27, as the Dukes head to White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., this Sunday, Jan. 27. JMU will open the 2013 spring season against Appalachian State at 9 a.m. before facing Colonial Athletic Association-rival George Mason at 1 p.m. at the Greenbriar Tennis Center.
Head coach Maria Malerba is ready to see the Dukes begin the dual season on the right foot.
"The first matches of the season allow us to see where we are and what we need to work on," Malerba admits. "The Appalachian State match will be a battle, as we are very evenly matched. The George Mason match is important as it is our first conference match of the year. These two matches will set the tone for the beginning of the semester and show us what we need to work on."
The Dukes will compete in five other conference matches before the CAA Championships in mid-April. Following the trip to West Virginia, JMU will face UNCW in a neutral-site match in Norfolk, Va., on Feb. 1. Madison will then play in two non-conference matches before heading to Williamsburg, Va., for a Feb. 23 dual with William & Mary. The final three conference matches will take place in April against Old Dominion, Towson and Delaware, all on the road.
Conference matches, while a small portion of the regular season for the Dukes, play a large role in postseason positioning for the team. The results of regular-season conference duals determine seeding for the conference tournament.
Co-team captain, junior Ruxandra Andriescu (Brampton, Ontario, Canada/Turner Fenton), considers the Dukes a strong contender for the CAA championship.
"An ambitious team goal for 2013 would be for us to win CAAs," the junior believes. "We are all very close in terms of playing level this year, giving us a strong lineup and a very good chance at the title."
The team is ready to work hard for those goals.
"We need to make the most of our limited indoor practice time in January and February, as well as work hard in the weight room and follow our conditioning programs," Malerba says. "Most importantly, we need to play together as a team. Tennis is not an individual sports as many people believe!"
Unlike the fall tournament season, spring matches feature dual-style play. The team will work to earn the majority of points in order to win the match for JMU. Most dual matches feature six singles matches, each worth a point, and three doubles matches, the winner of two taking the point.
"The nice thing about tournament-style play in the fall is the opportunity to work on improving your game and mental toughness as an individual," Andriescu acknowledges. "Dual match-ups in the spring are a lot more about being part of a team and helping support one another through the matches."
The Dukes will look to carry their success from the fall tournament season into this second half of play. As a team, JMU won 38-of-54 singles matches and 22-of-29 doubles matches over four tournaments in the fall.
Andriescu and fellow junior Jacqueline Palmucci (Aurora Colo./Cherokee Trail), the second co-captain for the 2012-13 season, are ready to lead the team effort this spring. Andriescu went 8-2 in singles matches this fall and won her last six solo competitions. She also won the 'B" Flight Singles title at the Navy Blue & Gold Invitational in October.
Palmucci went 5-4 over the fall season as a singles competitor and won the Flight '2' Singles title at the Liberty Fall Classic. She also competed in the 2012 ITA Atlantic Regionals tournament in Blacksburg, Va., falling in the Round of 64.
As a duo, Andriescu and Palmucci came out of the fall tournaments with an 8-2 record in doubles matches. They advanced to the final match of their flights at each of their three tournaments and captured the Flight '2' Doubles title at the Liberty Fall Classic.
Sophomore Taylor Pinchoff (Sylvan Lake, Mich./West Bloomfield) added a 9-2 record of her own in singles play over the fall season. She earned the Singles 'A' Flight title at the Navy Blue & Gold Invitational and advanced to the Round of 32 for singles competitors at the ITA Atlantic Regionals.
Pinchoff also reached the Round of 32 in doubles competition at the ITA Atlantic Regionals with partner Michelle Nguyen (Springfield, Va./South County), a senior for the Dukes. The pairing went 8-3 through tournament season, including a 3-0 run at the Navy Blue & Gold Invitational to secure the Doubles 'A' Flight title.
In her first season as a college tennis player, freshman Cara Wirth (Reading, Pa./Wilson) went 6-2 in singles competition, including a flight title in the Navy tournament, and 6-2 in doubles competition with senior Katherine Bulling (Loveland, Ohio/Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy), including a flight title from the Liberty tournament. Bulling added her own 6-3 record in singles play to the Dukes' record. Fellow senior Megan Douglass (Wilton, Conn./St. Luke's) went 4-3 in her own solo matches.