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Women’s tennis coach brings national title mentality to UCF

Published: Sunday, June 14, 2009

Updated: Thursday, June 25, 2009 13:06

coach

Courtesy UCF Athletics

This is part two of a series profiling UCF head coaches.

UCF Women's Tennis coach Stephanie Nickitas knows what it means to be a champion.

In her playing career at the University of Florida, she won four national titles, two team titles and two doubles titles.

Entering her third year as UCF head coach next season, Nickitas will use her experience to improve the team that has been were under her watch the past two seasons.

In 2008, the Knights finished 12-9. This year, UCF ended its season with a 12-10 record, the 18th consecutive season that the Knights had double-digit victories.

In both seasons, the Knights have advanced into the second round of the Conference USA Championships.

Traces of Nickitas' success can be seen with some of her players in the 2009 season.

Senior Elvira Serrot and sophomore Jenny Frisell were voted to the All-Conference USA team as a doubles pair. Frisell also made the second team for her singles play. Together, they finished the year ranked No. 59 in the final Campbell/ITA Tennis Rankings.

"The outlook is great," Nickitas said about heading into her third year on the job. "We're a young team, so we have a lot to learn maturity wise and experience wise. We're kind of in the building phase."

And that building phase is not just for the student-athletes; Nickitas is getting her share of education as well.

"Constantly learning and changing and just learning how to be a mentor for the student-athletes and just teach them about how the hard work and discipline that they're putting toward their tennis really shapes them for the rest of their lives," Nickitas said. "Yes, it's about winning, but you can learn a lot from losing."

During Nickitas' freshman year in 1996 at Florida, the women's team won the national championship. Nickitas also won the title in doubles with partner Dawn Buth.

"Freshman year was an amazing team, such a strong team," Nickitas said. "I think we went undefeated regular season as a team."

The 1996 Gators went 31-0 during the season, including a 14-0 mark in the Southeastern Conference.

During her sophomore season, Nickitas won another doubles title with Buth, becoming the first pair to win back-to-back doubles titles.

Junior year proved to be another team effort for the Gators, as they won their second national championship in three years.

Nickitas, a Tampa native, attended the Harry Hopman/SaddleBrook Tennis Academy her junior and senior year of high school.

When she was about 15, Nickitas was on the U.S. Junior National Team. She traveled and played in many international tournaments around the world.

When it came time to choosing whether to turn pro or go to college Nickitas chose the latter.

Choosing between UF and the University of California-Berkeley, she picked the Gators, attending UF from 1996-99 and earning her bachelor's degree in business administration.

At Florida, Nickitas won 128 singles matches and was an All-SEC First Team selection all four years. Nickitas earned All-America recognition six times and ranks first in Florida history with a single-season doubles winning percentage of 97.6 after posting a 41-1 record in 1996.

After college, Nickitas played professionally and said she struggled.

"It was hard for me to make the transition back to playing individual tennis," she said. "I thrived so much in the team atmosphere, and that's probably why I excelled more in doubles even as a junior.

"Through college, I liked the team environment, and once I went out to play solely individual tennis, I didn't have that fire anymore. In pro tennis, it's so cutthroat and you have to be me-, me-, me-oriented."

Nickitas served as an assistant coach at Harvard for three seasons and  was named the 2005 ITA East Region Assistant Coach of the Year.

Later in 2005, Nickitas moved on to Duke, where she spent two seasons as an assistant before being hired as the new UCF head coach on June 11, 2007. She replaced previous coach Patricia Allison, who had resigned after eight seasons.

With all of the accolades Nickitas has encountered as a player, she is focused on seeing similar success as a coach at UCF.

 

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