Nancy Harris sending 'beautiful team...full of life' into NCAA tennis tourney

Playing at home for first two rounds, Clemson faces Eastern Kentucky at 1 p.m. on Friday

Tennis - Liz Jeukeng

Photo by Mark Crammer

Tennis - Liz Jeukeng

Later this month, with her first semester of college behind her, Clemson's Liz Jeukeng will celebrate her 17th birthday.

She's hoping for a particular birthday wish.

Jeukeng's birthday coincides with the semifinal round of the NCAA women's singles championship tournament, of which she'll be a part, along with fellow All-ACC teammates Yana Koroleva and Beatrice Gumulya.

First things first, however, for the tournament's youngest player, who'll help lead the Tigers against Eastern Kentucky on Friday in the opening round of the national championship tournament at Clemson's Hoke Sloan Tennis Center.

Jeukeng will play the No. 2 singles spot for the Tigers, who enter the tournament as the No. 13 seed.

Her freshman season has been an unqualified success. A native of Cameroon who has lived in the United States since she was two years old, the nation's sixth-ranked recruit hit the ground running after enrolling in January and has compiled a 17-5 singles, including a 10-1 mark in ACC play. Her conquests include nine ranked players.

She enters the tournament with a No. 33 national ranking, after being ranked as high as 24th earlier in the season.

She's the youngest of Nancy Harris' group of Tigers - though not by much. Clemson's roster of seven is comprised entirely of freshmen and sophomores .

"This is a beautiful team - four freshmen and three sophomores - and this is the first time hosting for all of them," Harris said. "It's going to be fun."

Koroleva, a sophomore from Russia and a two-time ACC player of the week, will play the top spot in the Clemson lineup, and will be joined by Jeukeng, from Boca Raton, Fla.; Gumulya, a sophomore from Indonesia; freshman Ani Maio, from Taiwan; sophomore Romy Koelzer, from Germany; and freshman Tristen Dewar, from Bradenton, Fla.

The Tigers bring a 14-7 dual-match record into the tournament against Ohio Valley Conference champion Eastern Kentucky (19-6). The teams play Friday at 1 p.m., following the 10 a.m. first-round match between Vanderbilt (15-11) and Indiana (18-9).

Harris says this year's group reminds her of some of Clemson's best teams of the past, including two that advanced all the way to the NCAA Final Four.

"This team is full of life, with great energy and terrific leadership," said Harris. "They love having good times and they're not afraid of hard work. They're extremely dedicated, not just on the court but in the classroom, where they just came back with some magnificent grades.

"Their chemistry is extremely special, in that they're all young together. They're all experiencing the same things together, and that seems to make them more united. They remind me very much of our teams in the past that have come through this weekend and gone on to accomplish great things for Clemson. This team's personality is like some of those teams."

The Tigers will be trying to reach the second round of the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight year, and the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in seven seasons. Clemson is hosting for the first time since 2010.

"Playing at home is exciting," said Harris. "Years ago when we started hosting, Jack Leggett told me 'Nancy, you want to get to the place where you can host every year.' So we're just delighted to be hosting.

"If we can get a crowd out here as we've done in the past, I can promise you that will mean something."

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