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New coach brings new life into program

FGCU women’s tennis headed into the fi rst game of the season having worked with their new coach for two weeks. Director of Athletics Ken Kavanagh named Courtney Vernon head coach on Sept. 16.
Before coming to FGCU, Vernon was the assistant women’s tennis coach for the University of South Florida since July 2012. Before coaching at USF, she was the assistant coach for the men’s and women’s teams at Colgate University for two years.
“It is always nice to have someone as a first-time head coach,” Kavanagh said. “This is her opportunity to prove to herself and to others that she is ready to be a head coach.”
Vernon played for the USF Bulls and was the team captain during the 2006-07 season. She qualified for the NCAA singles championship that season after going 23- 0. She turned pro in 2007 and played in International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments and Pro Circuit tournaments.
Her experience as a professional influences her approach to coaching and helps with the recruiting process.
“I think that I have a high standard of what I would like to do here with the program,” Vernon said. “I know a lot of people and that helps with bringing in a lot of recruits. I feel like I can relate to a lot of the struggles the girls face and I can have compassion for them.”
With only six players on the team, there will be team tryouts in the next couple of weeks. Opening the tryouts to current students, Vernon believes FGCU has qualities that will help when recruiting students elsewhere.
“FGCU is a smaller school and I love that. There’s a beach on campus, the athletic department gives a lot of support. These are important things to me and are important when bringing in recruits,” Vernon said.
The women’s tennis team had its most successful season since moving to Division I in 2007. They won 11 matches, the second consecutive season of double-digit victories, and in the spring, they had the best-ever team GPA by earning a 3.78 cumulative GPA.
Previous coach Jennifer Gabou left the program after five years of coaching in July. The prospect of a new coach did not worry the players but was viewed as a growing experience.
“An exciting future lies ahead. It brings new life and new energy to the team,” senior Bettina Botha said. “Of course it’s sad to see an old coach go, I have been with her for three years so I have been used to what she does and how she works things, but I’m really excited about the new coach.”
Despite working with Vernon for only a short amount of time, the players already feel she is forming a positive relationship with them.
“She is someone we can relate to not just on the court but off the court,” senior Gyanna Mandic said. “It will build a connection and essentially, I think, a coach should be a mentor. If you don’t have the off court stuff, it is going to affect the on court stuff as well.”
Having lost one player from the previous year and gaining one new player, the team formed a strong bond that Vernon fi t into well.
“We have such great team chemistry and the coach is bonding with that really nicely. I mean she has her own set of rules and how she does things but it is pretty much the same thing we have been doing hard work,” Botha said.
As far as practice and matches go, the team heads into the season ranked fi fth in the Atlantic Sun standings, with the goal of winning conference. “
We had a couple great losses last year and it will be great to come back and beat those teams,” Botha said.
Along with working toward the goal of winning conference, the players point out that another goal is to solidify the bond with their new coach.
“This is a transition year,” Mandic said. “It doesn’t matter how great the coach is, we still have to get to know her. She is starting to get to know us individually and is really good at it.”
Forming a relationship with the new coach is a process, but the girls head into the season with the goal of winning conference in the forefront of their minds.
“I’m a fi rm believer that you have to have a plan to reach what you want to accomplish. It is what I want to stress with the girls,”Vernon said.
With that in mind, the Eagles headed into the UCF Invitational this weekend ready to compete. They rounded off the tournament with fi ve singles victories and 4-2 in doubles.
On Friday they played the University of Central Florida in doubles. Sophomore Elizabeth Means and junior Sarah Means won their match 8-6. Botha and sophomore Johanna Sterkel also won their match 10-8. In singles, the players were up against the University of South Florida and came out with no wins.
On Saturday, they played USF in doubles. Both doubles teams were defeated 8-7. Despite losing in their doubles matches, the Means sisters won their individual matches against Florida Atlantic University players. Sterkel rounded off the individual matches with a win.
On the fi nal day, the team played doubles against FAU. The Meanses defeated their competitors 6-2 and Sterkel and Botha won their match as well, 6-2. They fi nished the tournament playing UCF in singles. Despite losing the fi rst set, Sterkel won her match against Josephine Haraldson. Botha also won her individual match against Bogna Nowicka.
With the fi rst tournament completed, the team prepares for the Bedford Cup held Oct. 11-13 in Gainesville.

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