At the time his team’s season was brought to a halt on March 12 by the coronavirus health scare, LSU women’s co-head tennis coach Michael Sell couldn’t have been happier with the direction of his team.
“I felt like our team was on an extreme high,” Sell said. “A lot of our girls were starting to play some of their best tennis. We were really starting to believe that we were one of the elite teams in the country.”
LSU had reeled off seven consecutive victories, including a favorable 3-0 start to the Southeastern Conference season, when the Tigers were stopped March 8 at No. 22 South Carolina, 4-1.
The Tigers were scheduled for a two-match home stand, first with Ole Miss on March 13, followed two days later by Mississippi State when the remainder of the season was cancelled.
LSU, which was 17-12 overall and 5-8 in SEC play a year ago, wound up with a 10-3 mark and 3-1 in league play. The Tigers, who cracked the national rankings at No. 40 and climbed as high as No. 25 wound up No. 22 following the setback to South Carolina.
“We got better last year as the season went along,” Sell said. “This year we started out strong. Our depth was much better and camaraderie. This is the tightest team we’ve had. You see a lot more care and accountability in practice. There was a commonality. Everybody had that full belief in each other and that kind of showed in the tight matches that we had.
“The girls were mentally stronger and knowing if it came down to them, they would be able come through when it counts. (LSU co-head coach and his wife) Julia (Sell) and I believe in the girls, but the important thing is the girls believed in each other and with this year’s team, we had that.”
LSU wasn’t a team brimming with a lot of returning experience, relying primarily on junior Taylor Bridges and senior Paris Corley – the team’s lone senior – to lead the way.
The pair of second-year players in the Tigers program helped combined with junior Eden Richardson, a former NCAA doubles champion for the Tigers, along with an impressive group of newcomers that included Safiya Carrington, Maggie Cubitt and Nina Geissler.
Bridges, a transfer from North Carolina State, took over as LSU’s No. 1 singles player a year after compiling a 21-11 overall mark in her first season with the Tigers where she played in the No. 3 spot.
Bridges went on to earn Player of the Year honors from the Louisiana Sportswriters Association after a 16-6 season, including a 3-3 mark against ranked competition, and wound up the spring ranked No. 36 nationally.
Corley was 17-10 overall at the No. 4 singles position, while Carrington finished with a No. 71 national ranking after a 14-6 record playing at the No. 2 singles position Richardson was 14-6 overall and 8-1 in matches at the team’s No. 3 singles spot in the lineup.
Richardson of Bath, England joined Bridges on the All-Louisiana first team, while Carrington of Springfield, Mass. (15-7) and Geissler of Rorschach, Switzerland (7-2) were both second-team selections.
“Taylor had a tremendous end of the fall and she carried that into the spring season,” Sell said. “It’s always helpful to have a strong No. 1 to go along with the lineup that we had. Taylor wouldn’t have had that without her teammates pushing her every day. It was a bummer in many ways and that the season had to be cancelled. I think this gives us much confidence going into next season.”
Richardson, who was part of LSU’s first national championship doubles team as a freshman, was paired with Geissler as the Tigers’ No. 1 doubles team which went 14-5 overall and was 7-3 in their final 10 matches of the season.
They finished the season ranked No. 26, having improved from a previous ranking of No. 67.
LSU’s No. 3 doubles tandem of Carrington and Cubitt was 4-1.
“They really came on; they really work at it,” Sell said of Richardson and Geissler. “We played many different doubles combinations throughout the season, but over the last six or seven matches they picked it up. They spent a lot of time in the film room and took it to heart. Their hard work paid off.”
LSU carried the momentum from a successful eight-tournament fall season into the start of a challenging spring season where the Tigers were 3-2 after consecutive losses that included a 4-0 setback at No. 7 Texas without the services of Cubitt.
Bridges was involved in a competitive No. 1 singles match, falling 7-5 in the opening set and trailed 3-2 at the time the match was clinched.
The Tigers also dropped a pair of doubles matches, 6-4, and were down 5-4 in a third doubles matchup at the time the match was clinched.
“Texas is one of the top teams in the country and we played them at their place,” Sell said. “We played them fairly tight, all of the individual scores were close. I felt like as the season went on, we got better.”
LSU began its seven-match win streak with a 6-1 win over Tulane on Jan. 31 and rode that momentum into the start of SEC play Feb. 28 at then-No. 20 Vanderbilt where the Tigers hadn’t won since 1977.
The Tigers, which won the Nos. 1-2 doubles matches, took a 3-2 lead in the match in Geissler’s 6-1, 7-6 win at No. 4 singles when the 3-3 match came down to the result of the No. 6 singles match with Cubitt producing a 6-3, 6-1 victory.
LSU didn’t drop a set in a 4-0 home win over Missouri before traveling to Florida.
The Tigers led from the outset, adding to their lead with a pair of wins at Nos. 1-3 doubles and getting singles victories from Richardson (6-4, 6-2) and Geissler (6-4, 6-0) and a match-clinching win for Bridges (6-4, 6-2). It was her third victory of the season over a ranked opponent before the team fell two days later to South Carolina (4-1).
That turned out to be the season finale for a team that returns with so much promise.
LSU is scheduled to bring back its entire lineup for the 2020-21 season, complete with Corley who was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA along with a pair of talented freshmen, to give the Tigers plenty of reasons for optimism.
“We’re fortunate to have Paris back for another year,” Sell said. “Thankfully, she’s as excited as we to have her back for one more season. We have a very strong core group and two freshmen joining who will make an impact on our lineup. Our team is so deep. That’s the blessing that we have.”
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