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Women's Tennis Team Brings Region 19 Title Back Home; Sights Set on Nationals Oct. 26-28


West Windsor, N.J. - It's been six years since MCCC's women's tennis team has won the NJCAA Region 19 title. Having earned the title every year for nine years prior to 2005, the Vikings made it look almost routine. So this year's win at the Region 19 tournament, played at Gloucester County Community College Oct. 15-16, is extremely satisfying.

According to Head Coach Marc Vecchiolla, the competition in Region 19 has caught up over the past six years. "The level of play in our region is really fantastic," he says. "We wouldn't be where we are this year if we didn't play such high-level teams. We are from the strongest region and it makes our players better. Everything came together over the weekend for us."

That's clearly a result of individual talent and hard work on the part of the Mercer women. But it's also stems from the team spirit and sense of fun that Vecchiolla invariably inspires in his players - whether they win or lose. "Our goal is always to have fun, learn and work hard. But we like winning too," he adds.

In the regional tournament, Mercer earned 10 points, followed by Ocean CC with 8 points, Brookdale with 5, and Gloucester with 3. The close point totals reflect how well matched these teams were. "We are just glad we got through it as successfully as we did. That preparation should really help us at nationals," Vecchiolla says.

Of course, there was plenty of scoring drama, as always seems to be the case in team tennis. The Vikings' Kelly Tanzone, in the no. 5 singles final, faced her Ocean opponent early in the day on Oct. 16. A win by Tanzone would mean the best Ocean could hope for in the afternoon's doubles action was to tie the Vikings in total scoring. When the team had played Ocean during the regular season, Tanzone had lost 6-1, 6-0. This time - when it mattered so much more - she won by the same score.

"That indicates a huge improvement on Kelly's part during the course of the season, something you don't see that often," Vecchiolla said. After Tanzone's win, Alina Vitukhnovskaya won her final at no. 6 over Joanne O'Donnell of Gloucester 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-2 and sealed Mercer's victory going into the doubles matches.

Sophomore Alison Noll - the national champ at no. 1 singles last year - had a great tournament, as expected. She is, according to Vecchiolla, "the best female player I have coached in my 15 years at Mercer." Alison won the no. 1 singles flight by topping Gloucester's Avery Forte in the semifinals 6-0, 6-0 and Brookdale's Heidi Denn 6-0, 6-1 in the finals.

Noll also teams with freshman Ewa Szyszko at no. 1 doubles. They suffered their only regular season defeat against Brookdale early in the season, which made them even hungrier for a win at the regional tournament. Vecchiolla says they played their best match, this time around coming out with a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 win, and now hold a 3-1 head-to-head edge over Brookdale at first doubles this season.

"It's a great feeling all around. And this year, since nationals are in the fall, we are fully focused on the national title. That's always the ultimate goal," he says.

The Vikings will compete at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY, Oct. 26-28 for the Division III national title. "We are the favorites going in, but anything can happen," Vecchiolla says.

He reflects back on a season that couldn't have been better. Losing their first two matches, the Vikings then went on to win every match thereafter, earning a regular season record of 5-2.

"That's an indication of the commitment of our players and to the bonding of the team. These girls really care about each other," according to Vecchiolla. With three sophomore and three freshmen starters, the second-year players have taken the freshmen under their wing, an ideal team-building situation. Sophomores Kati Courtney (no. 2) and Melanie Hunter (no. 4) have been team leaders, really showing the way for the younger players.

"It been a very memorable season thus far and we are looking forward to next week," Vecchiolla says.


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Alison Noll is Mercer's no. 1. She hopes to repeat as national champ at the Div. III tournament Oct. 26-28.
No. 2 Kati Courtney, foreground, and no. 6 Alina Vitukhnovskaya are second doubles partners.
Ewa Szyszko plays no. 3 singles and first doubles with partner Alison Noll.