Jan. 21, 2012
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The Maryland women's tennis team begins is 2012 season on Tuesday and head coach Dianne Matias hopes to infuse two spring signees into a squad that returns six players from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
The Terps must replace two of their top players from last season, but after a successful fall in which sophomore Cristina Stancu captured the USTA/ITA Atlantic Region singles title and junior Ana Belzunce and sophomore Welma Luus won the doubles title to earn Maryland's first-ever bid to the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, coach Matias envisions a team that will compete with the Atlantic Coast Conference elite.
"We have a strong and solid team with some talented players," said Matias. "I expect to have positive results. We have six players that are coming back from last year, a junior-transfer with experience, and [Mikele Irazusta] has international experience as well."
Maryland begins the season ranked 40th by the ITA, one of eight ACC teams in the top-40, with Stancu ranked 28th in singles and Belzunce and Luus ranked 37th in doubles.
Stancu joined the Terps midway through the season in 2011 and finished with a 3-1 record playing primarily at No. 5 singles. In the fall, Stancu finished 8-2 overall and 5-1 against nationally ranked opponents including victories over 29th-ranked Emily Fraser and 75th-ranked Erin Vierra of Virginia.
Belzunce and Luus were second on the team last season with 17 doubles wins while splitting time at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles. The duo went 5-3 in the fall and 2-0 against ranked competition. Belzunce and Luus' success, in particular, did not come as a surprise to Matias.
"Luus has definitely improved a lot since arriving last January. She is playing really good tennis and has matured a lot," said Matias. "Her game is a really good mix. She can attack. She plays good defense and is very crafty. She has an all-around game."
Belzunce should significantly contribute in singles play, as well. Playing predominately at No. 2 singles in 2011, Belzunce led the team with 25 wins and knocked off three ranked opponents.
Following the end of the fall semester, junior Vroni Van Berlo and freshman Mikele Irazusta joined the Terps. Van Berlo transferred from Southern Mississippi after playing predominately No .1 and No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles for the Golden Eagles. The Dutch national won 21 singles matches in her two years at the Conference USA school. After not playing in the fall, Van Berlo will need to work her way into the Terps lineup.
Irazusta has played primarily in junior international tournaments and tournaments throughout Argentina. Irazusta is currently ranked by the WTA and after adjusting to the collegiate game should be a fixture in Maryland's rotation.
Also returning for the Terrapins are senior Jordan Hansbrough and juniors Burce Kurkan and Eleonore Paillaud. Hansbrough totaled 11 singles wins last season playing primarily at No. 5. The Kennesaw, Ga., native split time between No. 2 and No. 3 doubles winning 15 matches including nine dual-meet victories.
Kurkan and Paillaud saw limited action in dual meets playing primarily in tournament competition. Kurkan went 8-5 in tournament singles while Paillaud played in four singles matches and two doubles matches.
The Terps open the spring season at home against Howard on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 1 p.m. at the Tennis Center at College Park.