Georgia women’s tennis coach Jeff Wallace doesn’t ponder ITA rankings early in the season.

“The only ranking that counts is the final ranking,” Wallace said. “I don’t put much stock in rankings until the end of the season.

For sophomore Lauren Herring, the No. 1 singles player for Georgia women’s tennis, the team’s ranking always goes before her own.

Herring said that keeping her No. 9 ranking isn’t the first thing on her mind while she is on the court, but she still remains confident in her ability to fight her way through the Southeastern Conference’s best.

“Having the season I’ve had, it gives me more confidence,” Herring said. “I believe in myself more so that when I do go out and play I can believe in myself in the tough moments and I think that’s paid off and spurred me along.”

With the season Herring is having, it shouldn’t be too hard for her to find that confidence. Herring is 24-4 on the year with only one of her four losses coming from an unranked opponent.

Herring said she tries not to pay too much attention to her opponents’ rankings but her competitive side comes out when she faces a formidable opponent.

“I try not to look too much into what [my opponents] are ranked or who they’ve beaten. I try to go out there and play my own game.“ Herring said. “I think, naturally, when you play someone who is ranked the match is more competitive and I am more competitive.”

Herring said she sees competition in almost everything, even in practice, hitting with her coaches Jeff Wallace and Drake Bernstein.

“You can ask any of the girls; in practice I am extremely competitive to the point where they get annoyed,” Herring said. “I’ve always been like that since I was little and I don’t like to lose whether we are doing silly stuff, especially when I’m playing one of the coaches…that’s how I am in matches. If you’re competitive in practice it’ll help you in the match.”

Herring’s sense of competition has helped her close out countless matches this season.

In matches Herring has won, since the restart of the spring season this January, the sophomore has only allowed one match to go to a third set.

In that match, Herring faced Georgia State’s No. 29 Abigail Tere-Apisah while serving the majority of the match underhand due to an injury.

Herring has also proven she can take control of a match early. Herring has lost only four first sets this year and she was still able to fight back in two of those matches, both against ranked opponents.

When the Bulldogs began their SEC schedule, Lauren did see more injury trouble.

Herring reported a stiff neck and sat out during the team’s doubles match against Tennessee.

“It was the strangest thing,” Herring said. “I woke up and I couldn’t really move my neck, so it was difficult playing.”

Despite losing her singles match to the Vols’ No. 21 Brynn Boren 2-6, 3-6, Herring said she was glad she could give it her best shot.

“I was glad I was able to be in the lineup,” Herring said.

The sophomore hopes she will play more of a factor against Ole Miss this Friday.

“It’s still kind of hurting but hopefully it should be good this weekend,” Herring said.

She will need to be on her best game in these next few days as the Bulldogs prepare to play five matches in nine days, beginning this Friday in Athens and ending on Sunday, March 17 at South Carolina.

Herring said the rapid succession of matches shouldn’t upset Georgia’s routine, but that fatigue could play a factor.

“It’s going to be pretty taxing on our bodies,” Herring said. “It’s going to be important for us to take care of that and make sure our injuries don’t get out of hand.”

The five-game gauntlet includes a trip to Gainesville to take on the No. 4 Florida — the only other SEC team the Bulldogs have played this year. The Gators are fresh off of a loss in College Station, Texas against the No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies.

The Bulldogs played Florida three times this fall. Herring faced Brianna Morgan first and won 6-1, 3-6, 7-5. She faced Sofie Oyen twice, winning the first bout 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-1) but losing the second 3-6, 6-1, 3-6.

For now Herring and her team are picking up the intensity in practice as they prepare for Ole Miss.

“[Monday] was really tough,” Herring said. “On Mondays we hit a lot of balls and get back into a rhythm after we had a day off on Sunday. It was a lot of movement Monday.”

With Florida’s loss, the SEC race is wide open.

Herring said the Bulldogs can now control their own destiny moving forward.

“The coaches talked to us about how the SEC is an open race,” Herring said. “We are one of the few teams in control of our own destiny…we’re really confident after our showing at indoors and against Tennessee…I think we have good momentum heading through our SEC season.”

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