By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
WHEN the Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association’s 45th ranked women’s team travels to Lambaré, Paraguay, next month for the Americas Group 1 of the Fed Cup by Pariba, two of the top players from last year’s undefeated team in Group II in the Dominican Republic will not be making the trip.
The team, captained once again by Larikah Russell, will include Simone Pratt, Nikkita Fountain and Iesha Shephard. The team was selected by the Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association following the completion of the Giorgio Baldacci Elite Players Tennis Tournament at the National Tennis Centre in December.
The BLTA was hoping to include Kerrie Cartwright and Danielle Thompson, but they both will not be available to travel with the team. Cartwright has commitments to Florida State University women’s tennis team and Thompson is preparing to enter Morgan State.
BLTA president Derron Donaldson said they decided to select the four players to the team based on past experience and the fact that both Cartwright and Thompson won’t be able to travel.
Thompson, 18, pulled off a victory over 14-year-old Shephard to clinch the title at the December tournament that was limited in its field after both Pratt and Cartwright were unable to play. Shephard pulled off an upset over Fountain in her first round match, but her match against Russell was not played after Russell withdrew.
“Simone is playing great tennis, although we didn’t get to see her perform in December,” said Donaldson, who is completing his final term in office. “She has a big tour coming up before the Fed Cup and so we wanted to make sure that she gets healthy to be able to perform this year. Without Kerrie, it has weakened the team, but we expected that we would have had Danielle there.
“We know that Simone could handle herself. She’s been the No.1 player for the Bahamas for the last few years and has the highest ranking. Iesha is going for the experience, but Nikkita and Larikah are both going for the experience. They are getting down in age and will be competing against girls that are much younger than they are. So we were hoping that our younger players like Kerrie and Danielle would have been going.”
Without Cartwright and Thompson on the team, Donaldson said the BLTA is still keeping its fingers crossed that the Bahamas will produce another stunning performance.
Last year, the team of Pratt, Cartwright, Thompson and Russell as the player/captain, advanced out of Group II , knocking off the Dominican Republic 2-1 in their playoff match-up in El Salvador. The tie was decided in the doubles when Cartwright and Russell teamed up to secure the win.
The 2014 Group One tie is scheduled for February 5-8 at the Paraguayan Yacht and Golf Club in Lambar�, Paraguay. The Bahamas will join Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela in the round robin play that will have three teams in one pool and four in the other.
The winner of Pool A will play off against the winner of Pool B to determine which nation will advance to the World Group II playoffs in April 2014.
The nation in 2nd place in Pool A will play off against the nation in 4th place in Pool B, the two nations finishing in 3rd place will play off against one another. The two losing nations will be relegated to Americas Zone Group II in 2015.
Fountain, the most experienced player on the team at age 29 (her 30th birthday is on March 24), has played in 32 ties for nine years. She has compiled a 10-15 record in singles and 11-13 in doubles.
Russell, who will turn 29 on February 27, follows with an impressive 14-7 mark in singles and 16-7 in doubles in 28 ties over eight years.
Pratt, who celebrated her 19th birthday on Monday, has played Fed Cup for four years. In her nine ties, she has a 8-8 tally in singles and 2-2 in doubles. Thompson, whose 19th birthday is March 16, made her debut as the “rookie” last year. She played in two matches, all doubles where she was victorious. Shephard will now be dubbed the “rookie” of the team. Pratt, by the way, was the youngest player at 14 years and 104 days, when she made her debut on the team in April, 2010.