Queen's Women's Tennis Makes School History

None — By Cliff Mehrtens

The first undefeated team in Queens athletic history came from an unexpected source.

The women's tennis team, 4-14 a year ago, is 17-0 and top seed heading into Friday's Carolinas Conference tournament at Erskine in Sumter, S.C. The Royals' turnaround has been swift, stunning and fueled by talented underclassmen.

Five of the top six players are freshmen and sophomores.

"Our freshman class has definitely been the key," sophomore Kaitlyn Blakey (Keller, Tex.) said. "The talent they've added has been huge. I went from playing No. 2 singles last year to No. 6 now, and the girls who filled in those spots have won."

Coach Brett Karpman's second straight recruiting class made a seamless entry into college tennis. Freshman Erin Williams (Arden, N.C.) is 11-2 in singles, and has teamed with Christina Engelberth (13-3) singles for a 12-1 doubles record. Fellow freshman Amanda Poole (Douglasville, Ga.) is 13-1 in singles.

Sophomore Elena Mileva (Sofia, Bulgaria), the No. 1 singles player, is 13-3 after being all-conference last year. She and Blakey (11-2 record) have helped make last season's disappointment a distant memory.

"It brought us closer together as a team," Blakey said. "Enduring losses wasn't fun, but we had to go through it together."

Queens is No. 40 in the ITA Division II national poll, and No. 7 in the Southeast Region. The Royals won their first conference title since 1997-98, when they shared it with Pfeiffer.

Eight of the victories have been by 9-0 scores, and the Royals twice won by 6-0 scores. Junior Morgan Roberts (13-0 in singles) and sophomore Hewit Hawn (8-0 in doubles) have added depth.

Karpman, a Montreal, Canada native in his third season as coach, said team fitness has been vital to the unbeaten record.

"The pillar of our program is strength and conditioning, that's what I'm known for," said Karpman, who also works with professional players and top juniors. "We train twice a day, and that day-in, day-out effort builds confidence and character."

"I hadn't done that kind of work before," freshman Williams said. "It does pick my confidence up. We always feel like we have that fitness edge."

Three of Williams' recent matches have gone to a third set, and she won twice in the deciding set.

Queens was picked fourth in the preseason conference poll, and has beaten the three teams (Erskine, Lees-McRae and Anderson) picked ahead of them. The 6-1 victory against Winston-Salem State last week was Queens' first against a Division I opponent under Karpman.

The conference and NCAA tournaments loom.

But, Karpman, a former Queens tennis player, said he isn't consumed with rankings and records.