SETTING THE SCENE
South Carolina enters the 2013 NCAA Tournament first and second rounds in Coral Gables, Fla., under the direction of first-year head coach Kevin Epley taking on Purdue at 11 a.m. on Friday. The Gamecocks (13-11, 6-7 SEC) enter the matchup ranked 34th nationally, while the Boilermakers (17-5, 8-3 Big Ten) are 30th. Competing in the other half of the regional is No. 6 national seed and ACC Tournament champion Miami facing North Florida in the first round at 2 p.m. on Friday. The winners will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. for a spot in the NCAA Championships hosted by Illinois beginning May 17.
GAMECOCKS IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
The Gamecocks are making their 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and 23rd overall in the event's now 32nd year of existence. South Carolina owns an all-time record of 22-22 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' 19 consecutive NCAA appearances is tied for the 11th longest active streak in the country and they are tied for 13th in all-time NCAA appearances with 23.
ALAWI, KANAKOVA IN NCAA DOUBLES TOURNAMENT
In addition to the team portion of the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks' Jaklin Alawi and Dominika Kanakova earned an at-large selection to the 32-team NCAA Doubles Championship that begins May 23 in Urbana, Ill. South Carolina's top duo is currently ranked 29th and owns a record of 23-10 that includes a 14-5 mark in dual matches. With the selection of Alawi and Kanakova, South Carolina has had a singles competitor or doubles team in 25 of 32 NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships. Laura Bernstein remains the only Gamecock to advance to the round of 16 in singles, doing so in 1983 in Albuquerque, N.M. In doubles, Helen Crook and Victoria Davies are the only South Carolina duo to go as far as the semifinals, which happened in 1994 in Athens, Ga. If one were to count the individual and team tournaments, South Carolina has participated in at least one NCAA event every year since 1990, a streak of 24 appearances in a row.
Purdue posted a 17-5 record during the regular season while finishing 8-3 in the Big Ten under head coach Laura Glitz, now in her sixth season with the Boilermakers. Purdue is making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time after tying the 2010 squad for the second-most victories in school history. The Boilermakers also achieved a program-best national ranking of 14th this season and recorded their highest ranked road win in program history when they defeated then-No. 19 Notre Dame. Purdue has no ranked players in singles but does boast the No. 27-ranked doubles team of Krisztina Kapitany and Mara Schmidt, who qualified for the NCAA Doubles Championship.
Drawing Coral Gables, Fla., for first- and second-round NCAA Tournament action is nothing new for the Gamecocks. South Carolina was sent there in 2007 and faced off against Wichita State in the first round. The Gamecocks suffered a 4-3 loss to the Shockers in an exhausting 5-plus-hour match where the No. 4 singles contest between Stephanie Dalmacio of WSU and Laura Ganzer of USC decided the outcome. Ganzer lost 6-4 in the third after narrowly losing a tiebreaker for the second set, 12-10.
SEC PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
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 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.
IMPROVED DOUBLES PLAY
The Gamecocks saw dramatic improvement in their doubles play this season, winning the point 17 times in 23 attempts. South Carolina's top duo of Jaklin Alawi and Dominika Kanakova enters the NCAA Tournament with a 23-10 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 14-5 in dual matches at No. 1 doubles with a 6-3 slate at the top doubles position in SEC regular-season play.
The Gamecocks landed two players on the All-SEC Second Team this season with senior Jaklin Alawi and junior Katerina Popova. It was the second year in a row for Alawi to earn the accolade while being a first for Popova. Popova was also named the team's MVP this season after being the only Gamecock to record 20 wins in both singles and doubles.
NCAA TOURNAMENT FORMAT HISTORY
The NCAA first held a championship for women's tennis in 1982 in Salt Lake City. For the first six championships, the field consisted of just 16 teams and expanded to 20 starting in 1988. From 1988 to 1995, eight of the 20 teams selected played first-round matches and the other 12 received byes. From 1996 to 1998, the NCAA changed the format to include 58 teams, with 10 receiving automatic bids to the 16-team championship. The other six spots were determined through tournaments in six regions (East, Central, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, West) with eight schools in each. In 1999, the NCAA adopted what is still the current format of a 64-team bracket where each team must play every round. First- and second-round matches are played at 16 campus sites with four teams each, and the round of 16 and beyond is held at one institution. Starting in 2006, the NCAA combined the men's and women's round of 16 and beyond at the same location over the same time frame and included the individual championships there as well.