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Eckerd coach can't get rid of tennis bug

Katie Fleming is just 23 years old, but she feels she has already come full circle in the world of tennis. She's played tennis at the junior, high school and college levels, taught tennis and is currently the women's tennis coach at Eckerd College.

"I really missed playing college tennis after graduation," said Fleming. "When the opportunity to coach at Eckerd came along, I wanted to give it a try."

The St. Petersburg resident first took up the sport at the age of 6, became serious as a 12-year old and went on to play four years on the St. Petersburg High team. In 1984, the team won a state championship when Fleming was a junior. In high school, Fleming played No. 1 singles three years and No. 1 doubles her senior year.

A full tennis scholarship at North Carolina State paved the way for Fleming to join her sister Meg (also on a full tennis scholarship) and continue her education. Fleming graduated last summer with a degree in psychology. Her sister graduated in December.

"When I graduated I was trying to decide what to do," explained Fleming. "Originally, I wanted to play some satellite tournaments but I pinched a nerve in my knee and couldn't play for six weeks. So I came home, taught camps and after-school clinics at the Racquet Club. Then the offer at Eckerd came along."

Fleming's team is currently 2-4 with a match at Barry College on Saturday. The team's last two losses have been heartbreakers at 5-4. (College tennis has six singles and three doubles positions.)

"We have a different team from last year that finished tied for first place in the conference," said Fleming. "We have just four returning players."

Fleming believes her own youth enhances her ability to coach. Although near the age of many of the team members, Fleming has established a feeling of both respect and rapport.

"I asked one of the seniors _ who is just a year younger than me _ if my age bothered her," said Fleming. "She said that what was most important was that she knew I knew tennis.

"Besides, since it's such a short time since I graduated, I think I can better understand certain situations. And, I can identify shaky excuses _ because I may have tried them myself."

Fleming vows to stay involved in tennis and would like to continue coaching at the college level. First, however, she needs to get the competitive desire out of her system. Ideally, she would like to play some local tournaments and, if she were to do well, travel to Europe to play satellite-level tournaments.

"I know one way or another I'll be involved in tennis," added Fleming. "I just love the sport."

Wimbledon, anyone? Spaces are yet available through British Airways for an eight-day, seven-night trip to this year's Wimbledon Championships. Contact All Global Travel at 341-1111 before March.

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