By Pranay Malempati | Sports Writer
Just six years after graduating from Baylor, Georgia State women’s tennis head coach Alex Leatu has returned to her alma mater. Her Panthers will take on the Bears Friday evening in what will be both teams’ first match of the season.
After playing for Baylor from 2012 to 2014, Leatu is excited to be back and coaching against her former mentor.
“To coach against [Baylor head coach Joey Scrivano] is a special moment,” Leatu said. “We’ve been through a lot together and he’s been with me through some major moments in my life.”
She does recognize the difficulties in facing the Bears, who are currently ranked just outside the top 25 nationally. Leatu said a big challenge for her team will be overcoming the environment and fan support Baylor generally receives.
“They’ve had a great crowd always,” Leatu said, “so I think the girls are going to love the challenge. It’s going to be a true test.”
Leatu said her team needs to realize the pressure is not on them. She said anything can happen as long as they go on the courts with “a lot of energy and confidence” and understand that they’ve prepared the right way.
The Bears, on the other hand, had plenty of their own challenges and growing pains last year. Not only did the team suffer a string of injuries, but some of their players were also ruled ineligible last season. In fact, the roster was so limited that the team was forced to bring up two players from the club team.
Angelina Shakhraichuk, one of the players hit by the injury bug, was hurt for much of the season.
“There were [only] six players,” Shakhraichuk said. “It was hard, but we were just trusting the process, believing, working hard. . . I can’t wait to compete, all of us together.”
Scrivano said that the challenges they faced last year will help them this season and moving forward.
“It wasn’t obvious to the majority of people,” Scrivano said, “but we were really making strides last season. It wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard, but players like Angie, Jessica [Hinojosa], Livia [Kraus], Kristina [Sorokolet], Paula [Barañano], they all made huge strides. It was just difficult for us to get four points on a daily basis.”
Scrivano said that he has “nine really strong players” to choose from this season when making his lineup. They added three players this season, each who was a top player in her country. Anastasia Kharitonova, a transfer from the University of Flordia, was at one point a top 20 junior player in the world.
He said that the expanded roster gives the team a lot of flexibility with their lineup and their doubles combinations.
While Scrivano has a ton of experience and is ready to help his team compete at a national level, Leatu is just starting to build a program at Georgia State. She said being on the other side has given her a head start in learning how to be a good collegiate head coach.
Leatu said there are some coaching qualities she has taken from Scrivano in order to build a successful program.
“Culture is extremely important within the team, and making sure that everything has extremely high standards,” Leatu said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken away from Coach [Scrivano].”
Scrivano believes that very culture combined with the talented roster Baylor has this year should be enough to get the team back in the NCAA tournament. He has bigger plans in mind.
“We’re going to make a run,” Scrivano said. “We are very confident that this group is going to do some special things.”
Baylor and Georgia State will play at 6 p.m. Friday at the Hurd Tennis Center.