By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
OXFORD, Miss. – Alexa Guarachi wanted to make sure that her teammates wouldn’t forget.
A year ago, Alabama entered the Southeastern Conference Women’s Tennis Tournament on an eight-match league winning streak, a top-25 national ranking and boasted the event’s No. 4 seed. But the Crimson Tide fell to Vanderbilt, 4-3, in the league tournament quarterfinals, leaving Guarachi and her teammates feeling like they had some unfinished business.
“Something she talked about was that last year we were seeded No. 4 and we lost to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals, 4-3,” Alabama head coach Jenny Mainz said. “It was a very tough, disappointing loss. She told our team that our goal is to advance and show them that we’ve improved and are playing the kind of tennis that we need to in order to be successful. I think Alexa has done a great job leading the way with not only her experience and mentality, but she was right on course with making the semifinals.”
Alabama left no doubt on Friday, blanking Arkansas 4-0 at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center in Oxford to advance to the program’s first appearance in the SEC Tournament Semifinals since the 1993 campaign. The Crimson Tide will take on Georgia at 10 a.m. CT Saturday in the tournament’s first semifinal match. The Bulldogs made quick work of South Carolina earlier Friday.
“We’re very excited,” Mainz said. “That’s the great thing about playing in our league. You get countless opportunities. Being able to play Georgia twice in one season – obviously they’re a great team, they’re well coached and they’re a veteran team. I have all the confidence in the world that we will continue doing the things that we need to do to be effective.”
Alabama concluded the 2012 SEC regular season with a 16-3 overall record, including a 10-1 tally in league play, which was the best such mark in program history. In addition, the Crimson Tide captured the SEC Western Division crown for the second consecutive season.
But it’s not just what’s happening on the court that has spelled success for Alabama this season. Mainz says there’s another, much more important factor.
“Honestly, it’s the intangibles,” Mainz said. “I think when you have internal leadership that is strong, it’s powerful and good things happen. I think we’ve focused all season on one match at a time. We don’t get consumed with the outcome, we just get out, compete and earn it. We’ve done that all year. It’s been very effective.”
And it’s not just Mainz who has taken notice of the importance of the attitude on her team’s success. Arkansas head coach Michael Hegarty said Friday that Alabama’s chemistry has made the difference.
“I think that they’re obviously very talented,” Hegarty said. “Nobody has a top-10 season without great talent, so that’s the first part of it. But the other part of it is that they have a really great spirit out there. You can see that and we saw it a lot this season. A lot of teams will have momentum shifts in a downward fashion and they don’t; they just fight and fight and fight. I think that is something that is the key to their success this year. There are teams with as much talent as them that haven’t done as well just due to Alabama’s chemistry.”
The Crimson Tide’s ‘never say die’ attitude has been a critical factor in Alabama’s hard-fought victories against stiff league competition this year.
“What I like about this team is that we’ve shown tremendous maturity,” Mainz said. “We’ve dug ourselves out of a lot of very difficult situations. I like the way we have consistently responded with poise, with maturity and our experience has shown up in every match. I like the way we’re competing out on the court. We’re fighting hard and we’re getting help from all positions.”
Mainz knows it will be a tough test on Saturday when Alabama takes the court on Saturday against seventh-ranked Georgia, but she also knows her team will be up for the challenge.
“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Mainz said. “It’s exciting. We have had a really fun, prosperous season. It has been a total team effort from everybody. We’re just going to stay the course and keep working hard. That’s what we do – we play good energy tennis, we play together and I am convinced that when you play together like that and you have all the intangibles, good things are going to happen.”
The most important aspect of Alabama’s team is that the Crimson Tide are, well, a team.
“This is first and foremost a team,” Mainz said. “They care about each other, they play together and they play for each other.
“That’s powerful,” she continued. “I’m inspired and I think good things are going to continue to happen.”