A lot can change in a year, especially for a collegiate HBCU tennis program. The 2022 off-season saw the departure of several seniors and graduate students following FAMU’s first taste of the SWAC competition.
Roster turnover for any program can substantially affect the outcome of the next season, and head coach Rochelle Houston had an overwhelming young group to prepare for 2023.
That group, however, dominated the SWAC last season, finishing undefeated in the conference with a 9-0 record. The Rattlers cruised into the tournament as the No.1 overall seed. After taking on Alabama A&M and beating Jackson State in the tournament championship match, the Rattlers earned a bid to the 2023 NCAA tournament, falling to the University of Georgia Bulldogs in the first round.
awarded sophomore Reagan Harris all-tournament team honors and SWAC Player of the Year. Head coach Rochelle Houston weas named SWAC Coach of the Year. Sophomore Sierra Sandy and freshman Rebekkah Gaines also earned all-tournament team honors
Houston says the success in 2023 relied heavily on evaluating 2022 and intentionally recruiting for the upcoming season.
“The next year , we knew what type of players we wanted to recruit to help us succeed in the SWAC conference,” Houston said. “Then we set goals throughout the season with players that would help them get better each day.”
Most of the championship roster is back for 2024, bringing familiarity and experience to a program with the weapons to dominate the conference again.
Another key to their success, according to Harris, is the difficult non-conference schedule the Rattlers played at the beginning of the season, which included Florida State, Stetson and Southern Miss. Harris said despite the struggles early on, the increased level of competition prepared them well for conference play.
“Our heavy non-conference schedule leading up to SWAC matches prepared us tremendously,” Harris said. “Playing harder opponents and matches at the beginning of every season sets the tone for all of us. Every non-conference match we played was competitive. We had to step up to the challenge, and we carried that energy all the way to the end of the season.”
One new face is joining the program: Larissa Silva, a freshman from San Paulo, Brazil. She joins three other international teammates: Bolivian Susan Salinas, Venezuelan Veronica Martinez, and Moroccan Sarah Rakim.
Houston says recruiting international players is essential and no less different from recruiting American players.
“Talk to the coaches, talk to the players, see their match play results and ranking,” Houston said. “I let them know about the university’s rich history, the amazing degree programs that we offer, and the opportunities the tennis programs offer.”
Despite the challenges of following up a season in the SWAC as good as the Rattlers’ enjoyed last year, Houston says the goals for this season are simple.
“The goal is to be better than we were last year,” Houston said.
The team will kick off its season in Southeastern Louisiana on Jan. 26. The Lions finished 10-11 and 3-4 in the Southland Conference.