DENTON, Texas - Less than a month after falling 4-3 to FIU in the Sun Belt Conference Semifinals and sending off the two winningest seniors in over 20 years, North Texas tennis head coach Sujay Lama announced the signing of four high caliber athletes for the 2011-12 season on Thursday.
This class, which includes two transfers and two incoming freshman, will go down as one of the most talented classes in recent history of Mean Green tennis.
"I am very excited to have these ladies join us in the fall," Lama said. "It is a perfect blend of talent, athleticism, and experience. All of them possess a strong work ethic and have aspirations to play at the next level. There is no doubt in my mind that this group will help us take our program to new heights."
Valentina Starkova and Ilona Serchenko will be beginning their North Texas careers as junior transfers, while the freshman will be Franziska Sprinkmeyer and Keseniya Bardabush.
Starkova spent her first two years with the Arkansas Razorbacks amassing a 13-6 singles record and a 31-19 record in doubles. She spent time at both the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles spots and played anywhere from four to six in singles.
"Valentina is a powerful all court player with a big serve," Lama added. "She is also an accomplished doubles player and her time and experience playing in the SEC Conference will be a huge asset."
The former Razorback tallied wins over current Mean Green athletes Barbora Vykydalova (6-4, 6-2) and Paula Dinuta (6-2, 6-3) in the 2010-11 season as well as a narrow loss to the eventual No. 50 player in the nation in Kansas State's Petra Nidermayerova, 6-4, 1-6, 10-6.
Starkova joined the Razorbacks as one of the top players on the International Tennis Federation circuit. She owns four ITF tournament singles titles and six doubles titles, was the No. 2 junior player in Kazakhstan and the No. 106 player in the world.
Serchenko will be joining North Texas from McNeese State where she played exclusively in the No. 1 slot in singles in 2011, earning an 11-6 record. She enters her career with the Mean Green with a 26-11 overall record.
"Ilona is mentally tough and loves to compete," said Lama. "She has a bull dog mentality on the court. She has the heart of a champion."
The junior defeated five Sun Belt opponents last year, including the No. 1 players from Louisiana-Lafayette in Audrey Wooland (6-3, 5-7, 6-1 and 6-1, 6-1), Arkansas State's Emily Crowe (6-1, 7-5) and South Alabama's Alina Volman (7-6, 7-5).
Sprikmeyer, a native of Germany, was ranked in the top-300 in the U21 German rankings and was among the top-five in her State (Niedersachsen). She was a member of the club tennis team TV Parta 87 from 2006-08, which participated in Regionaliga, the third highest league in Germany.
"Franziska is the diamond in the rough of this class." Lama stated. "She has amazing abilities and has all the shots. What makes her special is her mental game. She is always calm and composed while competing."
Bardabush comes to the Mean Green from Lutsk, Ukraine as the 30th ranked women's player in Ukraine. She was world ranked in double on the WTA circuit, and was ranked top 500 singles in the ITF Junior world rankings. She held a top-20 ranking in the Ukraine for her age group from 2007-2009, peaking at No. 5 overall in the U14 group.
"Keseniya is an athlete with explosive shot making ability," Lama remarked. "She has great feel at the net and plays solid doubles. I like her presence on the court."
The addition of these four members to the team gives the Mean Green eight players on the roster for next season. Irina Paraschiv, Paula Dinuta and Nadia Lee will enter the season as seniors, while Vykydalova will join Starkova and Serchenko as juniors.
North Texas will be looking to capture its second Sun Belt Conference title in the past three seasons.