Gamecock Women’s Tennis Head Coach Kevin Epley and recent ITA All-American Championship winner Sarah Hamner pose with the ITA singles trophy. Photo by Julie Crosby
Sarah Hamner’s team cheered her on from the sidelines as she secured an Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championship win for the Gamecock Tennis Team Friday in Charleston.
Hamner, a freshman from Boca Raton, Florida, is the first athlete to win in Gamecock Women’s tennis history.
“I felt lucky enough just to be selected to be a qualifier because most freshmen can’t get into the tournament, so when Kevin told me I was going to play I was super excited,” Hamner said at a press conference on Tuesday. Kevin Epley is the head coach for the University of South Carolina.
To reach the ITA All-American Championship finals, Hamner played through three qualifying rounds before heading to the main draw of the tournament. She won all eight rounds to reach the finals.
Hamner’s ability to get into the qualifier isn’t the only thing that sets her apart from other junior tennis players, said Brian Gordon, a high performance coach and researcher in tennis biomechanics.
“It takes a while to get used to having all of these options and learn to play other types of shots, and that’s the main thing that she can do that junior girls and college level girls can’t necessarily do. She can hit an amazing array of different types of shots,” said Gordon. “There’s nothing that is really off the table for her.”
Gordon previously trained with Hamner for years to perfect her stroke and shots. He uses his biomechanics research to train athletes in Boca Raton to become high-performance players. When Hamner was around 16 years old, she transitioned from a decent player to an elite player, Gordon said.
Hamner, who attended Laurel Springs School, was recruited by the University of South Carolina at 16 and was the number one recruit in the country by the time she enrolled in the university according to Epley.
Even as the highest-ranked recruit in the nation, Hamner’s previous and current coaches attribute some of her success and talent to her mindset and attitude.
“She’s coachable, and she’s just an unbelievable fighter. She’s one of the most competitive tennis players I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been around the best tennis players in the world,” Kevin Epley, Gamecock’s women’s tennis head coach, said Monday in an interview with The Carolina News and Reporter.
Hamner played in the singles portion of the tournament and her teammates and coach made it a point to support her during this major event.
“We had a bunch of the team come and watch, just because it was in Charleston, and they were sandstorming in the stands and screaming and yelling for her in a very authentic way. So, it was amazing to see her win because it feels like a win for all of us,” Epley said.
Hamner felt that support throughout the tournament.
“They brought such a huge energy there, so going into every match that made life so much better. Without them, I don’t think I could have done it to be honest,” Hamner said.
The Gamecock tennis season will not officially start until January, and Hamner is excited to continue to play for the University of South Carolina tennis team.
“I just wanted to thank everyone … especially the Gamecock community. I have just felt so supported by everyone,” said Hamner, “It’s fantastic, I just feel like I’m on cloud nine right now.”
Sarah Hamner is the first Gamecock to bring home the ITA All-American Championship trophy. She won as a freshman after only a month on the UofSC team. Photo by Julie Crosby
Hamner described her tournament experience as “surreal” at a press conference on Tuesday and said her win is still sinking in. Photo by Julie Crosby
Epley discussed the camaraderie of the Gamecock team as they came together to support Sarah at the ITA in Charleston. Photo by Mackenzie Patterson