Teams ready for inaugural Pink Flamingo Invitational

The latest National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Oracle/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) women’s tennis rankings rolled out yesterday, and four of the top 25 teams will come to The Bahamas to play in the inaugural Pink Flamingo Invitational that will be played at the Baha Mar Racquet Club.

The invitational will get underway tomorrow and will wrap up on Sunday, January 12. Matches on Friday and Saturday will start at 9 a.m., and Sunday’s matches will get underway at 8 a.m.

Teams from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins, the University of Florida Gators, the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Miami Hurricanes will play in the invitational. The event is sanctioned by the ITA.

Players will play all the teams over the course of the three days in singles and doubles matches, vying for the Pink Flamingo Cup.

The highest ranked team that will touch the courts at the Baha Mar Resort will be the Bruins that come into the tournament ranked at number four in the nation. Coming in at number seven is the Longhorns. Florida and Miami are ranked at numbers 21 and 23 respectively.

The four coaches have six NCAA National Championship titles between them.

“All of us, including us coaches, are super excited for this trip to Baha Mar,” said Stella Sampras-Webster, head coach of the Bruins. “Some of our players have never been out of the country and most of them have never been to The Bahamas. This is a great opportunity for the team to travel together and compete against some of the best players in the country that are outside of our conference.”

This is Sampras-Webster’s 24th season as the Bruins head coach and she led them to the NCAA title in 2008 and again in 2014. She has a 441-165 overall win-loss record as a coach, and she is the older sister of tennis legend Pete Sampras.

The Bruins were preparing up to yesterday, with point play, according to Jada Hart, the number one player on the Bruins squad.

“I’m really excited to start the year in The Bahamas with the team and we’re looking forward to really good competition,” Hart said. “For this tournament, I just want to enjoy my time in The Bahamas with the girls and get closer to the team.”

One of her goals in this event is to get to the net as much as possible in preparation for the remainder of the season. She and her doubles partner Elysia Bolton are the highest ranked doubles team in the invitational.

Although Sampras-Webster is here for work, she is looking forward to her team being up close and personal with the sea turtles, stingrays and nurse sharks here in The Bahamas. They will kick off the event with doubles action against the Hurricanes.

Gators Head Coach Roland Thornqvist, who is in his 19th season, said his team is excited to play some of the top teams in the country.

“To be able to play at a top and world-class resort like Baha Mar makes it exciting. My hope for the team is that we get better each day and find out our weaknesses and work on them,” Thornqvist said.

Thornqvist has a 507-117 career win-loss record and a 433-71 record for the Gators. He led the Gators to four national championships with the latest one being in 2017.

Victoria Emma, a top-three player for the Gators, said she has been focused since returning from the Christmas break.

“This tournament is very early in our season so most of my preparation was done during my preseason over the Christmas break,” Emma said. “Since being back at school, these last couple of days I have been pretty focused on getting back into the swing of things. Our practices have been detailed and individualized because everyone on our team needs different things right now.”

Emma feels good coming into the event and trusts her preparation.

Hurricanes Head Coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews is looking forward to stiff competition from the field.

“We’re expecting to have some incredible competition against some of the best teams in the country. I’m looking forward to beginning our season strongly,” Yaroshuk-Tews said.

The coach, who is in her 18th year with the Hurricanes, sports a 356-117 record as the head coach. She has guided two players to NCAA singles titles with the latest one being Estela Perez-Somarriba last year.

She added that her team is pumped up and ready to play while having fun during their time here in The Bahamas.

Perez-Somarriba, who hails from Spain, is a senior for the Hurricanes. She is currently listed at number three in the 2019 ITA Fall individual standings. She said she has been working on her game.

“I have been working on different technical aspects of my game since last year and I am looking forward to having a great senior year with my team. Strong, effective preparation has always helped me in tough moments and I am very excited for what is coming,” Perez-Somarriba said.

She is looking forward to achieving great things with her teammates, and is looking to lead them through the rest of the season.

Leading the Longhorns is Head Coach Howard Joffe. He is in his fifth season at Texas and 13th overall as a collegiate head coach. He has posted a 73-28 record, and has helped the Longhorns finish in the top 10 in the last two seasons.

One of the Longhorns’ top players is Bianca Turati, who is ranked at number four in the ITA Fall standings.

Exciting and high-caliber tennis action is expected at the Baha Mar Racquet Club with these players looking to climb up the rankings and start the year off on the right foot.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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