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Fernandez’s first season brings changes

The USF women’s tennis team begins the 2003 season with many new faces as it travels to Gainesville to play Florida Saturday.

Former coach Sherry Bedingfield retired in April after 23 seasons and was replaced by former professional player Gigi Fernandez.

The experience of the team is also gone, as the Bulls’ roster contains one senior, while adding three freshmen.

After a disappointing fall season, coupled with back-to-back losing seasons, the Bulls will try to regain the program’s past success behind the play of a young squad.

Although the Bulls may lack the experience right now to be a serious contender, improvements have been made since Fernandez took over the team in July.

“We’ve made tremendous strides in the last two or three months,” Fernandez said. “I am very pleased. Everybody has shown a 100 percent improvement.

“The players attitudes are better, the skills are better, and they understand the strategy better. Now, the test is putting it all to use.”

The main goals for the Bulls this season are to learn and get better in each match. With two freshmen and a sophomore occupying the top three spots for the Bulls, the young team is going to have to learn along the way.

“Basically, we’re throwing them into the pool,” Fernandez said. “They don’t have an opportunity to get their feet wet. They just have to play, and hopefully they’ll learn quickly.”

Freshman Fabiana Taverna will play the No. 1 singles match, sophomore Patricia Kolendo will play No. 2 and freshman Luisa Obando will play No. 3.

None of the top three players has extensive experience at the collegiate level, so Fernandez isn’t putting much pressure on her players to excel right away. She just wants her players to maintain the same type of mentality she had while playing on the pro circuit.

“Everything must be at 100 percent,” Fernandez said. “You have to do your best.”

The Bulls’ first match is against a very tough Gators squad, so Fernandez is realistic about USF’s chance at stealing a victory. However, the Bulls’ home opener against Florida Atlantic on Sunday will play an important role.

“(The FAU) match should give us a good indication of where we’re at,” Fernandez said.

In only her first season as a collegiate head coach, Fernandez realizes that determining the success of a young team is different than how she determined her own success as a professional player.

“On (the pro) tour, you gauged your performance on wins and losses,” Fernandez said. “But this is college. The girls are here to get an education and improve their tennis.

“What we do as coaches is not necessarily build the athletic talent, but build the human being. What we will emphasize is learning and just getting better.”