Tennis teams ready to serve up competition

Junior Olivera Ngouabeu warms up during a practice last season. The women’s tennis team returns four players to a squad that finished 10-8 last season.

The power of positivity has taken over for the UNA tennis team as they begin a new campaign for a successful 2016 season.

After finishing 13-6 (men) and 10-8 (women) in the 2015 season, the teams are expecting improvement in all aspects. Both the men’s and women’s teams bring experience to 2016 as the men return seven starters, while the women bring back four.

UNA head coach Brice Bishop said in tennis, there is always room for a team to enhance its skills.

“No matter what team you are, you have to get better,” Bishop said. “It’s not just about hitting the ball. You have to get stronger and get in shape. Everybody can improve.”

The women’s team started the season against Belmont Jan. 30, falling 5-2. The men’s team lost its opener to Alabama-Birmingham 5-2 Jan. 31.

Guillaume Dechoz, a senior from Mulhouse, France, finished last season ranked in the top 50 and has higher individual goals for 2016.

“This year, I will try to get better and beat (Division I) schools,” Dechoz said. “I want to be ranked even higher than last year.”

Bishop said Dechoz, who represented the Lions last season on the All-GSC team, should be the No. 1 singles seed.

“Guillaume is our leader,” Bishop said. “He gives tremendous effort in practice, he’s focused in practice and there’s a reason why he’s having a lot of success.”

While he expects individual success, Dechoz said he looks for the team to triumph as a unit.

“This year, I hope we can make the regionals,” he said. “Last year, we missed (regionals) by one spot. We were (ranked) number seven and they only take six. I also think we have a better team than last year. We have developed good team chemistry.”

It will not be an easy task for the men, as the Gulf South Conference appears to be tough as usual. UNA plays two opponents, West Florida and Valdosta, ranked in the top 10.

UNA will start the season ranked 38.

On the women’s side, Bishop said he also sees an experienced group.

“For the girl’s team, we have more depth,” Bishop said. “The girls had a solid year last year. They finished fourth in the GSC.”

Junior Olivera Ngouabeu, a Paris, France, native who is the No. 1 seed for the women’s team, said her goal is to win all of her matches.

“I was upset with how I finished last year,” she said. “I started off the season doing extremely well, but it didn’t end the way I wanted it to. Because of how the season ended, it drives me to play better this season.”

Ngouabeu said adapting to a different culture while improving as a player was tough early in her career but has been a good learning experience.

“My freshman year here, I didn’t speak English very well, and I was nervous,” she said. “Now I know more, and my friendships with my teammates have helped me relax while on the court.”

Ngouabeu said, much like the men’s, the women’s team’s ultimate goal is to make regionals.