LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- The 2014 edition of the Covenant women's tennis team set new heights for the program. The women won a program-record 16 contests and advanced to the semifinal round of the USA South tournament.
The women open the 2015 spring season on Saturday at home against Snead State at 1 p.m.
So what does head coach John Hirte's squad do for an encore in 2015?
Entering Hirte's third year at the helm of the program, Covenant returns the bulk of its lineup from a season ago. Madeline Hyatt is gone and Sarah Carter is out for the year with an injury, but the Lady Scots were picked to finish fourth in the USA South preseason poll. Gretchen Rowe highlights the top returners that also include Gracie Smith, Claire Luger and Lindsay Geving.
A senior, Rowe won nine singles matches at the No. 2 spot last year, including a 7-2 mark in USA South matches, and was named to the All-USA South second team. Smith, a sophomore, won a school-record 16 singles matches last season and also tallied 11 doubles wins and was a third team All-USA South choice.
Luger put together a solid freshman campaign last year as she finished second on the team with 12 singles wins. Geving, in her first year of collegiate tennis, produced 10 singles wins as a sophomore and more recently won three matches at the ITA Regionals in September.
"We have good leadership, as most of our top returners are going to anchor the top of our lineup," Hirte said of his top returners. "I expect them to go out and compete well every match against stiff competition."
"I expect Annie and Jenny to see significant time. I think they bring some fresh energy to the team, and I see them contributing in our lineup," added Hirte.
Rounding out the roster are newcomers in freshman Mackenzie Jones and junior Jessica Rowe. Rowe, the younger sister of Gretchen, is playing collegiate tennis for the first time this season and is a three-year player on the Covenant women's soccer team. Also coming back in 2015 is junior Catherine Landers. Landers was a GSAC All-Freshmen team selection in 2013.
"Certainly, we want to build on our success," Hirte said. "That is not going to be an easy task, because our conference is so improved. I think we have a tougher schedule this year."
After opening against Snead State on Saturday at home, Covenant travels to regional power Sewanee on Friday, Feb. 13 before going to Birmingham Southern on Feb. 21. Covenant opens USA South play at home on Feb. 27 against Meredith.
"The Birmingham Southern and Millsaps doubleheader is exciting," noted Hirte about his schedule. "Sewanee is nationally ranked and is a good challenge. Big conference matches are Meredith, Huntingdon and Piedmont. We go to Oglethorpe and Agnes Scott, which is a good road test. We beat them both here, so they are eager to return the favor."