Sixty teams from across the nation compete in the ITA's first event of 2013
Courtesy of the ITA -- The 2013 spring season shifts into full gear January 25-28 during the fifth annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend. Sixty schools will be competing across the country for the 15 vacant spots at the ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship, to be hosted next month by the University of Virginia.
The 15 universities hosting ITA Kick-Off Weekend sites were designated as hosts in order of their year-end 2012 ITA National Team ranking. Three visiting schools will travel to each host site for a four-team playoff. The host school will meet the No. 4 seed, the No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed, and the winners will come back the following day to play for a berth in the 2013 ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship.
For complete coverage of the 2013 ITA Kick-Off Weekend please visit the official ITA event page. Follow the ITA on Twitter, @ITAtennis, for updates and news from the weekend's events. Use the hashtag #ITAKickOff for all tweets in regards to the event, or search the term "ITAKickOff" to find others who are tweeting from across the nation about ITA Kick-Off Weekend, Jan. 25-28.
With so much at stake and so many good matches on the horizon, here's an in-depth look at what to expect from each of the 15 sites.
Los Angeles - (1) UCLA, (2) South Florida, (3) Washington, (4) San Diego
Going into 2013 ITA Kick-Off Weekend as the defending ITA National Women's Team Indoor champions, the second-ranked Bruins will look to take care of business at home before making the cross-country trip to Charlottesville.
Led by outstanding sophomore Robin Anderson, who won the USTA/ITA Southwest Region singles title and the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships singles crown, UCLA boasts four players in the top 100 of the ITA Women's Singles Rankings. The Bruins also have three doubles pairs ranked inside the top 30.
The three teams heading to Los Angeles to compete along with the Bruins all fall outside the top 40 of the ITA Women's Team Rankings. The South Florida Bulls might present the biggest upset threat thanks to having two singles players and one doubles tandem in the ITA national rankings, but their depth will be tested should they face UCLA. The Washington Huskies, a fellow Pac-12 member, and the San Diego Toreros round out the field of four.
Durham - (1) Duke, (2) Wyoming, (3) College of Charleston, (4) Wisconsin
After falling short in the championship match of the 2012 ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship, the Duke Blue Devils should be a strong contender for the title once again this season. First, they will need to make sure they don't overlook the three opponents heading to Durham for ITA Kick-Off Weekend: Wyoming, College of Charleston, and Wisconsin.
While the other three squads do not have a singles player nationally-ranked, Duke has four. That does not include Beatrice Capra and Rachel Kahan, as both players did not play a singles match in the fall in order to recover from injury but are expected to be back in the Blue Devils' lineup at full strength.
The Cowgirls, Cougars, and Badgers all fall outside the top 50 of the ITA Women's Team Rankings, meaning a major upset would have to take place for Duke to fail to make it back to Charlottesville.
Los Angeles - (1) USC, (2) Tulane, (3) UC Irvine, (4) Akron
With four singles players in the top 60 and three doubles pairs in the top 40 of the ITA rankings, the USC Women of Troy might be the most overwhelming favorite on the women's side of ITA Kick-Off Weekend. The depth of the USC lineup should allow them to compete with any team in the country this season.
Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria should help set the tone early this spring for the Women of Troy. Winners of three national doubles titles over the past two seasons, Christian and Santamaria are a dominating duo at the top doubles spot for USC.
Tulane, UC Irvine and Akron will all be heading to Marks Stadium in Los Angeles. Tulane could be a potential darkhorse. Although the Green Wave only have one singles player and one doubles pair with a national ranking, the program has been steadily improving each year since it's re-start in 2008.
Athens - (1) Georgia, (2) Oklahoma State, (3) Georgia State, (4) Columbia
With nine nationally-ranked singles players and five nationally-ranked doubles tandems set to take part in ITA Kick-Off Weekend in Athens, Georgia could receive an early season test or two. The sixth-ranked Bulldogs bring four ranked singles players and a pair of ranked doubles duos into the weekend. Georgia is looking to replace two outstanding seniors from a year-ago in 2010 NCAA singles champion Chelsey Gullickson and Nadja Gilchrist.
Oklahoma State, looking to build off of last season's trip to the NCAA Tournament, boasts one singles player and one doubles team in the ITA rankings this season. The same is true for the Georgia State Panthers, as returning All-American Abigail Tere-Apisah hopes to lead her team to a couple of wins at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Although the fourth seed in Athens, the Columbia Lions put together a solid fall campaign that resulted in three players earning a national ranking in singles to go along with one nationally-ranked doubles duo.
Berkeley - (1) Cal, (2) St. Mary's, (3) UNLV, (4) Fresno State
The fourth of four Pac-12 teams currently in the top 10 of the ITA Women's Team Rankings, the Cal Golden Bears look ready to head back to Charlottesville despite the loss of the accomplished Jana Juricova. Zsofi Susanyi and Anett Schutting both begin the spring inside the top 10 following strong play in the fall. The Golden Bears have a total of four players nationally-ranked in singles.
Bay area foe St. Mary's and UNLV will head to Berkeley with some talent in their lineups as well. The Gaels Jenny Jullien is the lone St. Mary's representative in the first national rankings of the spring, coming in at No. 64, while the Runnin' Rebels Aleksandra Josifoska sits at No. 20 in the nation.
Doubles action could be the determining factor between these teams, as Cal has two doubles tandems appearing in the ITA Doubles Rankings while the other three schools have none.
Chapel Hill - (1) North Carolina, (2) VCU, (3) DePaul, (4) Auburn
With a total of seven singles players appearing in the ITA Women's Singles Rankings, the North Carolina Tar Heels could have the deepest team in the nation this season. A mixture of talented newcomers and improving veterans has North Carolina trending upward this season. A testament to the depth of this team is the fact that of the seven ranked players, the lowest is senior Lauren McHale at No. 111, who spent most of last spring playing at one of the top two spot for the Tar Heels.
As expected, none of the other three teams that will be in Chapel Hill are as complete as North Carolina on paper. Perennial NCAA Tournament participant VCU features a solid sophomore in No. 46 Salome Kvitashvili, who should be able to challenge any player she faces. The Rams do not have any doubles duos nationally-ranked, compared to two for North Carolina.
The DePaul Blue Demons have a couple of singles players in the national rankings to go along with one nationally-ranked doubles team. The Auburn Tigers do not have a singles player who earned a national ranking, but should be strong in doubles with a pair of top 30 doubles tandems.
Coral Gables - (1) Miami (FL), (2) Arizona State, (3) Oklahoma, (4) Hawai'i
A potentially tricky weekend awaits the ninth-ranked Hurricanes. Miami is faced with the tough task of replacing three of its top five players from a season ago, two of which finished last season ranked in the top 30. While this year's team may not have that same star power just yet, four Hurricanes are currently in the top 100 of the ITA Women's Singles Rankings.
Miami's opening match will be against Hawai'i, a team which qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. The Rainbow Wahine currently do not have any players nationally-ranked in singles or doubles, but do return a few experienced players from last season.
The Arizona State Sun Devils and Oklahoma Sooners round out the field of four in Coral Gables. Each team features one singles player in the ITA Women's Singles Rankings, while the Sooners also have a nationally-ranked doubles team.
Austin - (1) Texas, (2) Utah, (3) Stephen F. Austin, (4) Wichita State
This season the Texas Longhorns will have to depend on a number of underclassmen to continue to experience the level of success the program has had recently. Sophomore Noel Scott is the only Longhorn in the ITA Women's Singles Rankings, but Texas also has two other talented sophomores along with a pair of newcomers who could make an immediate impact in the lineup. Senior Aeriel Ellis is also looking to bounce back from a tough fall.
The Utah Utes enter the weekend ranked No. 34 in the latest ITA Women's Team Rankings. The Utes feature three singles players with a national ranking, along with a top 25 doubles duo in Paige Miles and Tereza Bekerova, who claimed the USTA/ITA Mountain Regional doubles title. Utah is coming off of a second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season.
Stephen F. Austin and Wichita State also qualified for the NCAA Tournament a season ago. In fact, the Longhorns defeated the Shockers 4-0 in the first round on their way to reaching the round of 16. Neither Stephen F. Austin nor Wichita State have a singles player or doubles tandem nationally-ranked.
Tuscaloosa - (1) Alabama, (2) Tulsa, (3) Clemson, (4) Memphis
With a balanced mixture of veterans and newcomers, Alabama is looking to make a success of its first opportunity to host an ITA Kick-Off Weekend site in program history. Junior Mary Anne Macfarlane and senior Alexa Guarachi both started the spring with a top 15 singles ranking, while a pair of freshman also earned a national singles ranking following fall action. Macfarlane and Guarachi are also ranked second in the nation in the ITA Women's Doubles Rankings.
Two of the three teams heading to Tuscaloosa are ranked in the top 25 of the ITA Women's Team Rankings. No. 20 Clemson must replace several key players from last year's squad that nearly upset Georgia in the NCAA Tournament. With three players appearing in the ITA Women's Singles Rankings, the Tigers may have found more than suitable replacement. No. 24 Tulsa is led by Samantha Vickers, who is nationally-ranked in both singles and doubles.
Memphis may be the lowest ranked of the four teams at this site, but the upstart Tigers are not to be taken lightly. This year's team features a pair of doubles tandems in the national rankings.
Evanston - (1) Northwestern, (2) Purdue, (3) Washington State, (4) Arkansas
While Evanston may not be loaded with nationally-ranked singles players and doubles pairs, all four teams come into the weekend with a national ranking inside the top 40 of the ITA Women's Team Rankings. Northwestern only has one ranked player 67th-ranked Kate Turvy, but she is coming off of a very successful fall in which she claimed the USTA/ITA Midwest Region singles title. The Wildcats also have the only ranked doubles pair that will be in action at this site, as the very accomplished duo of Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton are ranked 42nd.
Another Big Ten team, the Purdue Boilermakers, could pose a major upset threat thanks to having a pair of nationally-ranked singles players. Purdue may have the deepest singles lineup of the four teams, which should help make up for having no doubles pairs in the national rankings. The Boilermakers won the last meeting between the two teams, a 4-2 triumph in the Big Ten Tournament.
Washington State and Arkansas do not have any ranked players yet this season, but following successful campaigns a year ago, both squads are capable of making things difficult on their higher ranked opponents.
Waco - (1) Baylor, (2) Texas Tech, (3) Rice, (4) Florida State
It was another round of 16 appearance for the Baylor Bears a year ago, but the departure of the top half of the singles lineup due to graduation has left Baylor with some work to do in order to produce that same amount of success. Sophomore Ema Burgic should be a strong force at the first singles position, as she collected 15 wins in the fall alone and is currently ranked 16th. A pair of SEC transfers will also help stabilize this year's lineup.
The Rice Owls, one of the surprises of last season in reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament, have three players back from that team plus the addition of Miami (FL) transfer Liat Zimmerman. The Owls started the spring inside the top 30 of the ITA Women's Team Rankings and could begin to climb even higher with a successful weekend in Waco.
Texas Tech also has a good portion of talent returning from last season, which not only including a berth in the NCAA Tournament, but a 4-3 victory over the Baylor Bears as well. The Florida State Seminoles are a dangerous fourth seed thanks to having four players land in the ITA Women's Singles Rankings.
Ann Arbor - (1) Michigan, (2) South Carolina, (3) Missouri, (4) Brown
With middling fall results from the Michigan returners, it was the two Wolverine freshmen who stole a bit of the spotlight. Both Ronit Yurovsky (61st) and Amy Zhu (94th) are ranked nationally in singles and should provide Michigan with great depth. The Wolverines top player from last year, sophomore Emina Bektas, struggled with an injury through most of the fall, but did still manage to land in the doubles rankings at No. 21 with Brooke Bolender.
South Carolina also boasts a pair of nationally-ranked singles players along with one nationally-ranked doubles duo. At No. 34, Jaklin Alawi will be the highest ranked player to take the courts in Ann Arbor. She also teamed up with Dominika Kanakova for a successful fall season, as the tandem is ranked No. 46 nationally.
Missouri fell just shy of receiving a berth in the NCAA Tournament last season and has a lot of momentum going into the early part of this year. The Tigers should be a tough out this season as well, especially with Texas transfer No. 71 Cierra Gaytan-Leach at the top of the lineup.
Lincoln - (1) Nebraska, (2) Notre Dame, (3) Georgia Tech, (4) Tennessee
All four teams that will be competing in Lincoln currently sit inside the top 25 of the ITA Women's Team Rankings and advanced to at least the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament. Oddly enough, despite being the highest ranked team, the Cornhuskers do not have one representative in the ITA Women's Singles or Doubles Rankings. However, Nebraska does return five of its top six from last season's squad.
The Fighting Irish have one nationally-ranked singles player in No. 58 Britney Sanders, whose record is bolstered by her advancing to the finals of the USTA/ITA Midwest Region singles draw. Sanders is also ranked 20th in doubles with Julie Sabacinski, one of two Notre Dame doubles duo in the ITA Women's Doubles top 50. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech reach the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament last season, but with a new head coach and four of their top six players gone from that squad, the Yellow Jackets will have to dig deep to match last season's success.
Brynn Boren and Kata Szekely will look to lead the 23rd-ranked Lady Vols to a couple of victories on the weekend. Both players are ranked in the top 25 in singles to go along with being ranked 12th as a pair in doubles. Boren and Szekely took part in the singles and doubles draws at the 2012 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in November.
College Station - (1) Texas A&M, (2) Arizona, (3) Minnesota, (4) North Texas
On paper, the 14th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies should cruise through the competition in College Station on their way to qualifying for the 2013 ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championship. Texas A&M has three players in the ITA Women's Singles Rankings, including No. 3 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar, who is the highest ranked player participating in this year's ITA Kick-Off Weekend.
None of the other three teams heading to College Station can claim even one nationally-ranked singles player. The same is true for doubles, while the Aggies have the seventh-ranked duo of Stefania Hristov and Cristina Stancu.
Arizona, Minnesota, and North Texas all qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season, so while there may be no standouts on these three squads, they have all been in big matches before.
Oxford - (1) Ole Miss, (2) Illinois, (3) Vanderbilt, (4) Yale
Oxford features a total of nine nationally-ranked singles players and three nationally-ranked doubles pairs. The 19th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels only have one singles player on this list, but it is No. 30 Caroline Rohde-Moe, the highest ranked player competing at this site. The Rebels do not have a doubles team in the ITA Women's Doubles Rankings.
Illinois' Allison Falkin and Melissa Kopinski appear in the most recent ITA Women's Singles Rankings as the Illini look to build off of their top 25 finish last season. Kopinski is also ranked 11th in the nation with doubles partner Rachael White.
Vanderbilt and Yale can both claim three nationally-ranked singles players going into the weekend. The Commodores have no representatives in the ITA Women's Doubles Rankings, while the Bulldogs have a pair of doubles duos in the top 60.