GO TEAM BAHAMAS: Shown, from left to right, are our Billie Jean King Cup team members Elana Mackey, Saphire Ferguon, Sydney Clarke and coach Kerrie O’Kelley. Missing is player Simone Pratt.
#KIM O’Kelley likes what she sees from the Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association’s team heading to the Billie Jean King Cup in the Dominican Republic today.
#O’Kelley, who played in 11 Fed Cups from 1990-1999 before they changed the name to honour the legendary Billie Jean King, will travel with the team of collegians Elana Mackey and Syndey Clarke, Grand Bahamian veteran Simone Pratt and rookie teenager Sapphire Ferguson, who replaces Sierra Rodgers from last year’s team.
#As a coach currently operating a programme out of Atlanta, Georgia, O’Kelley said she always enjoys representing the Bahamas. This time, she’s taking a team to play out of the Americas Group two against teams from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.
#“It’s good being in an environment where I can give back to the Bahamian people,” O’Kelley said. “This time, I won’t be a player/captain, but just a captain so my role is going to be different. It’s a new experience that I’m looking forward to.”
#Before they left, O’Kelley had a chance to work with the team at the National Tennis Center.
#She said she has a plan to run with the team and if they stick with the tactic, they should be able to achieve their feat of being one of two top teams to get promoted to Group one next year.
#If successful, Team Bahamas can either clinch one of the two spots to remain in Group II or be one of the two final teams to be demoted to Group three. O’Kelley said the latter is definitely out of the picture with this core of players she has to work with.
#“I’ve heard good things about the Bahamas Games and how well these girls all played for their various teams,” O’Kelley said. “I have a plan for this team and if they can stick to it, we will be very successful.”
#Mackey, who represented Eleuthera in the Bahamas Games, said Team Bahamas is being placed in a harder group in the Dominican Republic, but they just have to go with the strategy that O’Kelley has implemented for them.
#“I think anybody is beatable on any given day,” Mackey said.
#“We only have one new player from last year, Saphire, so it’s still me, Sydney and Simone. We did pretty good last year, so we can only improve on that performance.”
#As for Mackey, who turns 21 on August 14, she said she intends to “go out there and play like how I know how to play and carry the things that I’ve been doing in practice.
#“I don’t want to get nervous or scared to hit the ball.”
#However, she noted that having O’Kelley on the sidelines, she’s confident that she can get through the tie.
#Clarke, the 21-year-old team leader for the champion Andros Chickcharnies, who secured the gold over the Grand Bahama Lucayans in the Bahamas Games, will also be participating in her fifth appearance at the Billie Jean King Cup.
#“This is going to be a hard one this year. There’s a lot of good competition from the different countries, but I’m really excited that we have the ability to do very well,” Clarke said. “We’ve been working hard. We’ve put in the work. It’s just a matter of us being focused and leaving it out on the court when it matters the most.”
#Looking at the make-up of Team Bahamas, Clarke said they have a new addition in Ferguson, who will be getting her feet wet, but with the experience they have in Mackey and Pratt, they should get the job done. Clarke was the runner-up to Mackey at the BLTA’s Giorgio Baldacci Invitational in December to earn their spots on the Billie Jean King Cup team, while Pratt and Ferguson got the final two in a playoffs that followed a few months ago. “For me, I really hope to put it all out there,” she said. “My goal is to win all of the matches I play. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s the goal. It’s not giving up, but giving it your all for the team, win, lose or draw.”
#And with O’Kelley as their captain, Clarke feels she will be a big plus for Team Bahamas.
#“She’s played at this level and she’s a very good coach, so it’s good to have someone with her experience out there with us,” she said.
#“If we take in what she gives us and adjust to it, we will be alright.”
#Pratt, at 27, is coming back into tennis after giving birth to her child, while Ferguson is a 16-year-old home-schooled student.
#When the Billie Jean King Cup is over, Clarke will head off to the University of Birmingham at Alabama to complete her senior year for the Blazers women’s tennis team.
#She is a former student of CR Walker, who went on to graduate from Windsor High School and the Albany Tennis Academy.
#“I get to play in two Challengers for prize money this fall, so I’m really excited about these events,” Clarke said. “That would be great preparation for the spring season where I really hope to go far and make it to the nationals individually and for our team to win the conference title (Conference USA). This is the last lap, so I really want to make it special.”
#Mackey, a 19-year-old graduate of Nassau Christian Academy, will be leaving for Mars Hills, North Carolina where the versatile tennis player and distance track runner hopes to close out her final year with a bang for the Lions.
#“I’m hoping to make the first team this time and maybe go to the National Tournament,” she said. “I don’t expect to do too much track. I told them to put me in a limited amount of events because I really want to focus on my last year as a tennis player.”
#This past season, Mackey was selected to the All-South Athletic Conference Third Team. She posted a 13-5 win-loss record in singles, going 6-5 in conference. She also teamed up with partner Amanda Kadiri to go 10-7-1 in doubles.