SEC champion Bulldogs ‘pack a powerful punch’

Maho Kowase has a big month ahead of her.

The senior graduates in Sanford Stadium May 9 after playing in an NCAA tournament first-round match with the Georgia women’s tennis team, which won the Southeastern Conference tournament title last weekend.

And her parents will be in town.

“It’ll be cool to have them here,” the Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan, native said.

She and fellow seniors Kate Fuller and Lilly Kimbell will have to skedaddle from the Dan Magill Tennis Complex courts to make it to the 7 p.m. commencement ceremony.

But first there are final exams to take and papers to write as well as preparing for the NCAA tournament, which Georgia hosts.

“There’s a lot going on, but really I’m just trying to take it all in, to be honest,” Fuller said. “Enjoy every moment that’s left of this.”

En route to their SEC tournament title, the No. 2 Bulldogs (21-4, 11-2 SEC) were able to avenge two of their regular-season losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama, beating them 4-1 and 4-0, respectively.

“We went into the weekend with a mission, with a team goal and we did and we accomplished it fairly easily, which is really awesome,” Fuller said.

Now the Bulldogs are focused on trying to rest their bodies while working on their conditioning to prepare for the heat and humidity May brings.

“(The heat) kind of picks up right before the tournament always, so it seems likes it’s kind of a physical and mental battle. We are in good shape already,” Fuller said. “We’re just going to be working on fine tuning those little things that we see ourselves maybe making a few mistakes or working the point the way we want to work the point and kind of working on our games and being really confident going in.”

The Bulldogs have just seven players on their roster, leaving them with little wiggle room in the lineup with the threat of injury. Each of the seven frequents the training room even for nicks and scrapes.

“Especially in the postseason that’s always a priority, making sure everyone is staying on top of their injuries,” said Lauren Herring, a junior who plays at No. 1 singles for Georgia and earned SEC Player of the Year honors last week. “We’ve been fortunate enough — knock on wood — to not have anything that’s been huge this year. … We want to make sure that those don’t become bigger issues than they need to be.”

Despite the lack of depth, the Bulldogs have three players ranked inside the top 17, Herring (No. 6), Kowase (No. 17) and Silvia Garcia (No. 16). Kowase and Garcia were named to the SEC’s First- Team.

“Our top three courts right now, I kind of feel like you can go out there against anybody in the country and know that you’re going to be competitive and hopefully on the winning end most of the time,” said Georgia coach Jeff Wallace, whose team learns its first-round opponent Tuesday. “It’s a small group, but it does pack a powerful punch. That’s what you need to be successful.”

Follow Rachel online at twitter.com/rachelgbowers.

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