South Carolina enters the 2013 SEC Tournament under first-year head coach Kevin Epley as the event's No. 8 seed after compiling a 6-7 record during league play. The Gamecocks are hoping to rebound from a disappointing finish to the regular season with losses at Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Before the last weekend of SEC play, the Gamecocks won four league matches in a row, their best since the 2010 season. South Carolina will take on No. 39 and ninth-seeded Ole Miss in the first round of the tournament on Thursday at 9 a.m. ET. The Gamecocks beat the Rebels 4-0 less than two weeks ago in Columbia, S.C.
The Gamecocks had three different players earn SEC Player of the Week honors during the regular season with juniors Katerina Popova and Dominika Kanakova, and sophomore Elixane Lechemia. Carolina won the award three consecutive weeks to become the first school since the league began awarding weekly tennis honors in 2000 to claim the prize three times in a row. Kanakova was the first after she helped the Gamecocks defeat Auburn, ranked 18th at the time and currently 19th, and then followed up with a win against the fifth-ranked doubles team from Alabama of Alexa Guarachi and Mary Anne Macfarlane. Popova took home the honors the next week after going undefeated in singles and doubles play versus Arkansas and LSU, helping South Carolina defeated both schools on the road for the first time since 2007. Lechemia capped off the trifecta after clinching the Gamecocks' 4-3 win over Mississippi State and securing the doubles point against Ole Miss while also winning her singles match in straight sets.
South Carolina and Ole Miss have squared off several times against each other in the SEC Tournament. In fact, Thursday's matchup will mark the fourth time they have met in the 8-9 contest, which is also the only time the two have played against each other in the SEC Tournament. South Carolina owns a record of 2-1 versus the Rebels with the last meeting coming in 2011 in Knoxville, Tenn. The Gamecocks were the No. 9 seed in that contest and won two three-set matches after taking the doubles point to earn a 4-3 victory in nearly five hours. Dijana Stojic provided the clinching point after fighting off two match points at 6-5 in the second set against Connor Vogel, winning the tiebreaker 7-0 and the third set 6-0. South Carolina and Ole Miss also met in 2006 in Gainesville, Fla., in a match that went a long way in determing which of the two would qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks pulled out a 4-1 victory to secure a spot in NCAAs. Ole Miss defeated the Gamecocks by a 4-3 score in the first SEC Tournament meeting between the two in Nashville, Tenn., in 2004.
South Carolina is competing in its 22nd SEC Tournament this season and owns an all-time record of 19-21. The Gamecocks have reached the finals on one occassion (2002) and the semifinals four times (1995, 1999, 2002, 2010). Carolina has competed in at least the quarterfinals all but three times (1993, 2004, 2008).
The Gamecocks saw dramatic improvement in their doubles play this season, winning the point 16 times in 22 attempts. South Carolina's top duo of Jaklin Alawi and Dominika Kanakova enters the SEC Tournament with a 22-10 record, making them the winningest duo in school history since the 2001-02 campaign. That season, Jodi Kenoyer and Lynn-Yin Tan compiled a 27-8 record together and went 16-6 in dual matches to include a 15-6 record at No. 2 doubles. They were also 6-4 in the SEC on court two. Jennifer Radman and Kathy Boyanovich finished with a 21-11 record that year while playing every match at No. 1 doubles where they were 16-7 and 6-4 in the SEC. Kanakova and Alawi are 13-5 in dual matches at No. 1 doubles with a 6-3 slate at the top doubles position.
Since first competing in the SEC in 1992, the Gamecocks have enjoyed consistent success in a league that is arguably the toughest in the nation. Since the league expanded in 1992 and again in 2013, the Gamecocks are one of seven SEC schools to win 100 league matches, and their .533 (130-114) winning percentage ranks sixth in the conference.
The Gamecocks are looking to make their 19th consecutive NCAA Women's Tennis Championship appearance and 23rd overall in the event's now 32nd year of existence. South Carolina owns an all-time record of 21-21 in the tournament. South Carolina's best showing came in the first championship in 1982 when it reached the quarterfinals after defeating Florida and in 2009 when it also made the quarters after downing Washington. South Carolina has made a total of six Sweet 16 appearances (1982, 1983, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2009). The Gamecocks' 18 consecutive NCAA appearances is tied for the 11th longest active streak in the country. South Carolina is also one of only 19 teams in the country to make at least 20 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and Carolina ranks tied for 13th in all-time NCAA appearances. The other 18 teams with at least 20 NCAA bids include: California (31), Stanford (31), UCLA (31), Florida (30), Southern California (30), Texas (30), Pepperdine (29), Arizona State (27), Miami (Fla.) (27), Georgia (26), Duke (24), Northwestern (23), Arizona (22), Indiana (22), Tennessee (22), San Diego State (21), Clemson (20) and Kentucky (20).