ROCK HILL, S.C. --- The Tusculum women's tennis team has been picked as co-favorites in the South Atlantic Conference preseason coaches poll, and placed five players on the preseason All-Conference team, the league office announced Wednesday.
The Pioneers, the defending SAC Tournament champions, had three singles players and two doubles pairings earn spots on the preseason All-Conference team, which was voted on by the league's media relations offices. Senior Franziska Funke and sophomore Katarina Majorova were first-team selections both in singles and as a doubles team, while sophomore Annie McCullough was named second team in singles and the team of sophomores Brittani Brooks and Amber Lackey was a second-team choice in doubles.
Tusculum finished 20-7 last season and tied for second place in the SAC standings with a 9-2 record. The Pioneers won three matches in as many days to earn the conference championship, beating Newberry, Wingate and Queens to secure the program's eighth NCAA tournament appearance. The Pioneers received five first-place votes to share the top spot in the rankings with Wingate, which earned four first-place votes after winning its seventh straight SAC regular-season championship and extending its streak of consecutive conference victories to 59.
Majorova, who ended the fall ranked 12th nationally in singles by the ITA, was named SAC Rookie of the Year last season after compiling a 15-7 singles record for the Pioneers, including an 8-2 record in conference matches. The native of Martin, Slovakia was 13-5 playing at number-one singles for the Pioneers last year, and has followed up with a pair of singles wins in fall action. Majorova also advanced to the finals of the ITA Southeast Regional Small College Championships during the fall by winning five matches.
Funke, ranked 47th in the latest ITA singles rankings, went 18-9 overall for the Pioneers last season to earn first-team All-Conference honors, then captured Most Valuable Player honors as the Pioneers captured their fourth SAC Tournament championship. Funke was 9-1 in conference play at number-two singles for the Pioneers, and carries a 56-11 career record into the spring portion of the Tusculum schedule. A two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American, the native of Bochum, Germany won her singles flight at the Georgia Gwinnett Grizzly Open this past fall.
As a team, Funke and Majorova was voted first-team All-Conference last year after finishing with a 21-7 record during the 2016-17 season. The duo went 10-1 in conference matches and won all three of their matches in the SAC Championship tournament. The pair also won their flight championship at the Grizzly Open in the fall.
McCullough, currently ranked 27th nationally in singles, was honorable mention All-SAC last season as she played number-three singles for the Pioneers and went 20-4 overall and 8-2 in conference matches. McCullough finished the season with five straight victories, and had just one loss in straight sets all year. The native of Belfast, Northern Ireland was a quarterfinalist at the ITA Southeast Region in the fall and had a victory in her only dual match competition of the fall season.
Brooks and Lackey teamed up to go 18-7 overall for the Pioneers last season, including a 15-6 mark at number-three doubles. The pair had a strong 9-1 record in conference matches, and delivered the team's only point in a 5-1 loss to Armstrong State in the first round of the NCAA Division II tournament. This past fall, Brooks, from Allen, Texas and Lackey, from Roswell, Georgia, advanced to the flight semifinals at the ITA Southeast Regional and at the Grizzly Open, while winning their only dual match.
Tusculum and Wingate (17-4, 11-0 SAC) each received 101 poll points in the survey, followed by Queens (12-4, 9-2) which was third with 95 points and the other two first-place votes. Anderson (18-5, 9-2) was fourth with 86 points and Lincoln Memorial (11-7, 5-6) took fifth with 70 points. Carson-Newman (8-10, 7-4) claimed sixth place with 64 points, followed by Newberry (15-10, 6-5) in seventh with 60 points and Lenoir-Rhyne (9-12, 3-8) in eighth with 48 points. The remainder of the poll consists of Catawba (13-11, 2-9) in ninth with 35 points, Coker (6-9, 4-7) in 10th with 32 points and Mars Hill (6-12, 1-10) in 11th place with 23 points.
The Pioneers will open the spring portion of their 2017-18 schedule on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at noon against Young Harris at the Nichols Tennis Complex. The Pioneers begin conference play on Saturday, March 10 at Coker and wrap up the regular season on the road at Newberry on Saturday, April 14. The eight-team SAC Tournament will begin at campus sites on April 17 before concluding at the Cayce Tennis Center in Columbia, South Carolina with semifinals and finals on Friday and Saturday, April 20-21.