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MCCC Women's Tennis Team Finishes Second at Nationals


West Windsor, N.J. -- Marc Vecchiolla, head coach for women's and men's tennis at Mercer County Community College, loves the game of tennis, but also approaches his matches with mathematics in mind. "I thought if we won seven of nine flights on the first day, we would be in contention to win the national title," he said.

His team did just that on Oct. 26, the first day of the 2011 NJCAA Women's Division III Tennis Championship, played at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Queens, NY.

What Vecchiolla didn't count on was the team from Rock Valley Community College (IL), which went nine for nine on day one and went on to earn 33 points in total. "Nine for nine rarely happens; they were incredibly deep," Vecchiolla said.

So, the Vikings were pleased with their 27-point second place finish. Fashion Institute of Technology followed in third, and New Jersey rivals Ocean County College and Brookdale finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Taking second at nationals, MCCC's women's tennis team, from left, Asst. Coach Ralph Bencivengo, players Ewa Szyszko, Kelly Tanzone, Alison Noll, MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue (holding plaque), Kati Courtney, Melanie Hunter, Alina Vitukhnovskaya, Coach Marc Vecchiolla and Asst. Coach Barb Pleva.

There were many reasons for the Vikings to feel satisfied. Mercer had five flights advance to the finals and came away with two national champions, sophomore Alison Noll at no. 1 singles for the second year and freshman Kelly Tanzone at fifth singles. Both were named First Team All-Americans. Runners-up included Alina Vituknovskaya at no. 6 singles, Ewa Szyszko and Noll at first doubles, and Melanie Hunter and Tanzone at third doubles. All were named Second Team All-Americans.

"We won a lot of close matches," Vecchiolla said. "If we think we are going to win every single close match, we are just being greedy. Rock Valley had the better tournament, but we have much to be proud of."

Coach Vecchiolla considers this year to be a model of a successful turnaround. Having won zero matches last year, the women started off the season slowly, losing their first two contests. But then the team chemistry kicked in and the Vikings won every match thereafter, including the Mercer Invitational and the Region 19 title. They ended the regular season 5-2.

While all his teams are unique and special, Vecchiolla holds a special place in his heart for these dedicated, talented players. With two consecutive national titles at no. 1 singles, Noll was a dream player to coach, says Vecchiolla. "It was nice to watch her. She never goes for a shot at the wrong time. She always puts the ball where her opponent can't hurt her. It may take five shots or 30, but she plays very intelligent, very strategic tennis. And her footwork is impeccable."

In her dominant performance at nationals, Noll lost only one game in her three singles matches. With two national titles in the same calendar year (last year's national tournament was played in the spring), she has earned a record that is unlikely to be broken by anyone in the country any time soon.

Vecchiolla praises all his players for committing fully to the process of improving their games and contributing to the team totals. Kati Courtney battled all season at the competitive no. 2 spot and proved a real team leader. Freshman Ewa Szyszko held her own at no. 3 singles and complemented Noll nicely at no. 1 doubles. Sophomore Melanie Hunter at no. 4 improved significantly over last year; her national final appearance with Tanzone at no. 3 doubles was a real highlight. Kelly Tanzone at no. 5 singles really shone at nationals, battling FIT in three sets in the quarterfinal and notching one of the few wins against Rock Valley in the finals. Similar improvements were apparent for the hard-serving Vitukhnovskaya at no. 6, who shows great promise after a very successful first season.

With three freshmen expected to return next year - Szyszko, Tanzone and Vitukhnovskaya - Vecchiolla looks forward to starting out next year with a talented nucleus of experienced players and building from there.


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