Jay Pacelli enters his fourth spring as East Central Community College's tennis coach with high expectations for both his men's and women's teams as the 2019 season gets underway Feb. 1 in Marion, Ala., against Marion Military Institute.
Pacelli's men's team will be 10-deep this spring with a lot to prove after a disappointing 2018 season.
"Our men have lofty goals," said Pacelli. "They were not happy about the way they finished last year, but I'm happy about the way they are going about business this spring. We should be improved and have plenty of depth."
Returning from last year are new team captain Isaac Keen from Winston Academy, Jake Wofford from East Webster, and Will Ladner from Stone County.
"Isaac is proving to be a team leader," noted Pacelli. "He is extremely dedicated and making incredible strides with his game. The sky is the limit for Jake, a talented left-hander. Will is also providing leadership and I expect him to crack the lineup this season."
Two newcomers from Australia are battling to play at the No. 1 singles slot this season. Chris Lawrance is a freshman from York, Western Australia, and Isaac Santitto is a freshman from Innisfail, Queensland, Australia. They will also form East Central's No. 1 doubles team.
"Both Chris and Isaac are extremely talented and could be among the very top players in the state," said Pacelli.
Other freshmen expected to contribute are Dylan Barnett and Peyton Chaney, who played for the Newton County team that won the state title in 2017 and finished runner-up in 2018. Pacelli said the pair excel at doubles and should also contribute in singles play.
Dominick Donaldson was a district champion in doubles at Florence High School and will also contribute at doubles for the Warriors. Walk-ons Kayro Serrano-Arteaga from Forest and Jacob Gardner from Wayne County provide much-needed depth.
"This team has a lot of confidence and they believe they will be one of the top teams in the state and compete for national tournament bid this year," said Pacelli. "Talent can only take you so far, and their positive attitude should provide benefits as the season progresses."
On the women's side, Pacelli won't have the numbers he has on the men's team, but he does return a state/region champion and has added players who have experienced championships at the high school level.
Returning is last year's No. 1 singles and doubles player Gabriela Gomez of Bogota, Colombia, along with Bethany Wellerman, who prepped at Newton County Academy. Wellerman won the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges/National Junior College Athletic Association Region 23 Tournament title at No. 5 singles last April. She finished the spring season with a perfect 13-0 record against in-state competition.
"The women will have a very balanced lineup this year from player number one to player number seven," noted Pacelli. "There won't be much depth, but it may be the most talented women's team I've had since I got to East Central.
"I expect Gabriela to turn the corner this year after several nagging injuries slowed her down last spring. She has the talent to be a major challenger in the state this year. Bethany played outstanding tennis last season at No. 5 singles and this year will take over leadership of the team as our captain."
Tindall and Wellerman played on two Newton County Academy state championship teams.
Newcomers include Josie Hurst and Ali Grace Walker, who won the 2016 Class 4A State Championship in doubles at Newton County High School and finished runner-up in 2017 and 2018, along with Newton County teammate Kayla Baucum who won a state championship at mixed doubles.
"Josie and Ali form a talented and experienced team that should lead the way in our doubles lineup," noted Pacelli. "All the new players from Newton County will have an impact. They come from a tremendous program run by coach Chad Bond.
"Overall, our women form a group that I expect will be strong deep into the season. They are accomplished players who have a great deal to bring to the courts."
In addition to playing all the MACJC tennis teams home and away, the schedule includes a weekend trip to Alabama where the women will face Snead State and the men Gadsden State, followed by both teams playing Wallace State squads that finished last season in the ITA top 25 rankings.
A full schedule of matches can be found online at www.ecccathletics.com.
Members of the 2019 East Central Community College Women's Tennis Team and their respective high schools include (from left) freshman Josie Hurst, Newton County; sophomore Gabriela Gomez, Bogota, Colombia, Agustiniano Salitre; sophomore Madison Crapps, Pisgah; freshman Kayla Baucum, Newton County; freshman Ali Grace Walker, Newton County; sophomore Bethany Wellerman, Newton County Academy; and sophomore Alexis Tindall, Newton County Academy. (EC Photo)