By Mary Ashton Nall Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
In 2011, Ole Miss women’s tennis highlighted its signing class with two blue-chip recruits out of Florida. Now in their junior years, Julia Jones and Erin Stephens are contributing to the program with wins on the court and with leadership roles on the team.
Stephens, a native of Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., was the first to commit to play for the Rebels in her senior year of high school. Jones committed later in the year as a junior, having earned enough college credits to attend Ole Miss one year early. Being familiar with each other from junior tennis, the duo decided to room together freshman year and has been roommates all three years in Oxford.
“With them coming in a couple of years ago, they’ve really made their mark on Ole Miss tennis,” said head coach Mark Beyers. “They came in together and from day one were a big part of the team.”
In Stephens’ freshman year at Ole Miss, she made the All-SEC Freshman team and was named SEC Player of the week twice. In her sophomore year, she posted winning records in singles and doubles to help lead the Rebels to their fifth straight and 16th overall NCAA appearance. She also received All-SEC honors.
Jones was also named to the All-SEC Freshman team in 2011. She ended last year with a No. 12 ranking in the ITA Southern Region and received All-SEC honors. This fall, she won the singles title at the Country Club of Little Rock Invitational and owns a 9-3 record.
“I’ve had the best fall season since I’ve been here this year. I practiced a lot over the summer so I’d be ready to go right into the season,” said Jones. “I just hope to keep it going. I want to get a high ranking in the spring and hopefully earn All-SEC and maybe All-American honors.”
Stephens and Jones’ success in the classroom matches their wins on the court. Both student-athletes have been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll twice, as well as the University Honor Roll every semester. Jones has also been named an ITA Scholar Athlete both years, an honor given to tennis players who achieve a cumulative grade point average of at least a 3.5.
“They are just such great kids,” said Beyers. “Beyond the wins they bring to the team, they are great students, great kids and just great to have around in terms of inspiration and work ethic.”
Stephens and Jones say they welcome the leadership responsibility that comes with being upperclassmen.
“It’s definitely a big responsibility to set a good example for the team,” said Jones. “We have to check up on the younger girls and make sure they are doing ok.”
Stephens said that while it’s important to lead by example, her teammates are self-driven and committed to winning as a team.
In the women’s team lounge area at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center there is a poster with a list of team goals for the 2013-14 campaign. Along with SEC and NCAA aspirations, the Rebels are determined to always practice with a purpose, hold teammates accountable and always be the loudest and most positive team at every match.
“I think it should be a really great season because last year we were a really young team and now it’s all the same players coming back,” said Stephens. “We have a lot more experience and talent going into the season.”
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