BUCKHANNON— The West Virginia Wesleyan tennis program will undergo quite the makeover this fall, as the campus prepares to host their first home tennis matches in three seasons. The construction of a new six-court, lighted facility has certainly brought about a new level of anticipation for the Bobcat tennis teams heading into this year's campaign.
However, it is a different element of newness that has head coach Marc Walters itching for the season to begin. There will be no fewer than eight newcomers to the men's team, and three additions to the women's squad. In all, there could be as many as 13 new players in the mix by the start of classes, and that has the fifth year head coach as excited for this fall as he has been for any of his previous seasons in Buckhannon.
"It's a really deep pool of talent that we have joining us for both teams," said Walters of his third recruiting class. "We have such a good mix of guys coming into the program this fall. When you combine that with the fact that we graduated only one player from last year's 19-win NCAA Regional men's team, I know we are going to have many more options to explore with the lineup."
On the women's side of the net, Walters believes that the talent level for the ladies will literally double from the previous year when the team posted a 9-9 record and finished fourth in the MEC for the third consecutive year.
"We were very fortunate to get early commits from two players that I knew were going to upgrade the lineup," explained Walters. "Then we received another verbal late from a girl with a great resume, and that has pushed us over the top to level I have been striving for us to reach."
Because the women play their championship segment for the Mountain East Conference in the fall, the additions will impact the team in the MEC matches. Walters has aspirations for his team to break through into the top tier of the conference, while working towards a regional ranking. He believes this recruiting class can get that done when added to an already experienced roster. Just like the men, the Lady Bobcats also graduated just one player from last year's squad.
Joining the women for this fall will be freshmen Bebekka Heigermoser (Germany), and Cecilia Martinez Oliver (Spain) Estel Fernandez Balada, a transfer from Stillman (Ala.) College, will also compete for the Lady 'Cats after playing a top three position in her first two seasons of D-II tennis.
"First and foremost, these young ladies are stellar students," Walters said. "They will of course help us compete at a high level, but they are also great fits for the type of student-athlete our program has become known for in the classroom."
The women recently received their third consecutive ITA All-Academic team award under Walter's guidance, and all eight of the team members earned the individual ITA honors as well. The team GPA was a stellar 3.748 for the year.
Heigermoser, who hails from Traunstein, in Bavaria, is the daughter of Gertraud and Hubert Heigermoser. She has reached a high ranking of #20 in the Bavarian juniors, while cracking the top 900 in the combined open German women's rankings. She trained at the TuS Traunreut and Euroelite Academy under the tutelage of coach Michael Andreasson during her junior career. Rebekka was also active in Track and Field and competitive Cheerleading during the past several years. An aggressive baseliner who hits with flat and compact strokes, Heigermoser chose the Lady Bobcats for the ability able to combine high-level tennis while studying at a school with a top academic reputation. The 5-7 right-hander will be studying Business and Psychology at Wesleyan.
Fernandez Balada has two years of collegiate tennis under her belt at the DII level, having transferred from Skillman College in Tuscaloosa, AL. A crafty lefthander, the native of Tarragona, Spain, showed her prowess as a freshman while competing against the Bobcats while a member of regional-rival Bluefield State before her time at Skillman. Skillman's decision to suspend the tennis program in 2017 led her to Wesleyan, and her 3.8 GPA in Exercise Science will undoubtedly help push the team in the classroom.
Martinez Oliver is the final piece of the puzzle for this year's class. The 5-8 righty comes to Wesleyan from the Spanish city of Albox, Almeria. A physically strong player and gifted athlete, Martinez has a dominant forehand and strong serve which she uses to put her opponents on their heels. A veteran competitor at the junior level, she has won more than 20 tournaments and finished runner up another 15 times since beginning her training in 2008. She has reached a high singles ranking inside the women's national top 250 in Spain, while staying in the top 5 of her region during her junior career. She will be studying Sport Management as a Lady Bobcat.
Walters believes that each of these players will contribute immediately to his team's lineup, and he emphasizes that the competition within the team will go a long way towards developing a tougher side come tournament time.
"We have four experienced players returning in Paula Pimenta and Mariona Junyer, who were both All-MEC last season, as well as Sarah Cameron and Kasumi Hayashi," Walters said. Those two have each played a significant role in our depth and level but who were playing just a notch or two out of position the past years. I think we will have a much better balance in our overall strength, and our doubles will have more options as well. I am excited to see what we can do with them this year, but the potential is there for a significant improvement in our conference and regional play."
The Lady Bobcats are scheduled to kick off their fall season with the Bobcat Inter-squad Challenger on September 2-3 and they host their first dual match on September 5 against Walsh (Ohio) in Buckhannon.
Estel Fernandez Balada
Cecilia Martinez Oliver