Jayhawk tennis starts work to return to NCAAs
LAWRENCE, Kan. – After ending a 17-year drought from the NCAA Tournament last season, fourth-year head coach and the 2016 ITA Central Region Coach of the Year Todd Chapman and the Kansas tennis program enter the 2016-17 season with expectations of turning postseason play into a tradition rather than an aberration.
The Jayhawks return four key pieces from last year’s team which ranked No. 33 nationally, notched a 17-8 overall mark and earned a second-place finish in the Big 12 Conference. Sophomores Anastasia Rychagova (No. 1), Janet Koch (No. 3) and Nina Khmelnitckaia (No. 4), along with junior Summer Collins (No. 5) who accounted for two-thirds of KU’s singles lineup last year and return this season.
“We’re excited about what we bring back from last year’s team,” Chapman said. “I think we have a great nucleus with four girls coming back who started for us last year. We are excited about that piece and we are also excited about the three newcomers.”
Rychagova posted the best debut season by a Jayhawk in school history. Named the 2016 Big 12 and ITA Central Regional Freshman of the Year, while also earning First Team All-Big 12 and Big 12 All-Freshman Team honors, Rychagova posted a 26-9 overall singles record from the No. 1 spot. Khmelnitckaia, another member of the Big 12 All-Freshman Team, and Koch each collected 20-plus singles victories on the year which also spurred the program’s turnaround.
“The biggest part that has changed is the expectation,” Chapman said. “Three of those girls, in their first year at Kansas, made the NCAA Tournament, so they don’t have the mindset that this hasn’t been done in 17 years, but rather we have been here one year and we did it once. That is kind of the mindset we took through last year to start that new tradition. We are definitely going in the right direction from a culture standpoint, but we have some room to grow.”
Helping Chapman grow that culture will be the addition of the three newcomers – senior transfer Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum and freshmen Tatiana Nikolaeva and Maria Toran Ribes. Bernard-Feigenbaum, who posted 29 singles victories and 28 doubles wins during the 2014-15 season at Purdue, after sitting out last season with a medical redshirt, played all matches at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles for the Boilermakers.
“Tess has great experience at the top of the lineups in both singles and doubles,” Chapman said. “Being a senior, I think she has high expectations of herself too, but we expect her to come in and help anchor the top of our lineup in singles and doubles. What will that number will be? There is a lot of time between now and January. That is something she embraces and wants. She has high goals and expectations for herself and wants her senior year to be a special one.”
Although new to collegiate tennis, Nikolaeva and Toran Ribes bring extensive resumes to Mt. Oread. Nikolaeva hails from Togliatti, Russia and Toran Ribes calls Algemesi, Spain home. The duo boasts top-10 junior rankings in each of their respective countries.
“Both (freshmen) have extensive international experience and come in really battle-tested for freshmen,” Chapman said. “They will be like last year’s freshmen in that I knew they were good, but I didn’t know until they were in the team environment and put in those pressure situations. We will see where they go, but I know they have the ability to make immediate impacts in our lineup.”
The Jayhawks open the fall campaign at the Little Rock Invitational in Little Rock, Arkansas from September 23-25.
“We have six tournaments on our (fall) schedule and the plan is for each (student-athlete) to play in four of the six events,” Chapman said. “We have a great mix of teams from all over the country. We also have a couple of events that we hope some of our girls qualify for, the All-American in early October and the ITA Indoor that Anastasia was able to qualify for last year. That will give us a chance to play against the best of the best.”
In addition to those ITA events, Kansas will be represented in the ITA Regional Championship in Minneapolis in mid-October, the Roberta Alison Fall Classic in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in late October and the Notre Dame Fall Invitational in South Bend, Indiana in early November. For a complete fall schedule, click here.
“The other four events we have on the schedule are challenging as well,” Chapman said. “There won’t be a tournament we go to where we are the best team there. That is always the plan to push our players in a way in the fall that gets us out of our comfort zone and definitely teach us the areas we need to get better in and develop in.”
With a full schedule and roster, Chapman and the Jayhawks now just have to put it all together on the court.
“We have a really talented group, but now we have to put the work in,” Chapman said. “Just because we have talent doesn’t mean we will achieve it. This is probably the best starting point we have had in my time here from a talent standpoint.”
Considering last season marked the best endpoint for the Jayhawk program in 17 years, the 2016-17 campaign should be fun to follow.
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