Young Lions’ tennis team prepared to serve multiple victories

Freshman Hope Willis prepares to hit the ball in practice Jan. 30. Willis is one of nine freshmen on the team.

UNA tennis is ready to ace the competition this season.

Building off a competitive 2014 season equipped with new faces and fresh talent, the men’s and women’s tennis teams are prepared to begin what could be their best season yet.

“I think our talent level is deeper than we’ve ever had it, which has made for good practices,” said head coach Brice Bishop. “We’re ready to go play.”

Nine of the 18 members on the UNA roster are freshmen.

“Our talent level is high, and how quick our freshman can adapt to the college level will have a lot to do with our success,” Bishop said.

For both the men and women’s teams this season, leadership is vital, he said.

Senior Guillaume Dechoz said he understands and embraces his role as a leader.

“Sometimes adaptation to college tennis can take a while,” he said, “It’s my role to help them go through this process and I love it. It’s like a new challenge for me.”

Dechoz resumes the No. 1 singles position this year.

Natalia Barragan, the only senior on the women’s team, said she is doing her best to help her team with anything they need.

“We have six freshmen on the team so with the experience I have, I will make sure I am a good role model for them,” she said. “I want to help them feel good and comfortable but most importantly proud of being on this team.”

Sophomore Olivera Ngouabeu was named first-team All Gulf South Conference last year.

Both teams suffered tough losses in the Gulf South Conference tournament last year. The men lost to Valdosta State University in the first round, and the women lost to the Blazers in the semifinals.

Dechoz said this is the year to have a different outcome.

“The main goal for the team is to make the regionals,” he said, “I think we definitely have a chance this season. As a senior, I have to make other players believe we can make it.”

Although winning a championship is always a goal for Bishop, he said his main goal for his teams is to compete.

“Every day you walk out there, you want to be competitive,” Bishop said, “For the men, three of our conference schools are in the top 10 in the nation. So if you’re competitive in your conference, you’re going be competitive nationwide.”

The men’s team lost their season opener 7-0 to University of Alabama-Birmingham Feb. 3. The women begin their season Feb. 6 at Belmont University in Nashville.

“We are ready for our first match,” Barragan said. “I think we have had a lot of court time and preparation and I am sure we will do a good job representing UNA against Belmont.”

The Lions first home game is Feb. 22 against Christian Brothers at 1 p.m.