CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Armed with a deadly groundstroke, a positive attitude and just the right amount of independence for a college freshman, Brittany Franco is set to lead the undefeated West Virginia State University women's tennis team into this week's West Virginia Conference Tournament at Kanawha City's Schoenbaum Courts.
Make no mistake, Franco - as one of three undefeated singles players on the roster - doesn't command all the attention of what Coach John Simms calls the "most talented team" he has coached.
Actually, in his 10 years at State, the Yellow Jackets have four WVC regular season championships and one tournament title.
They begin the quest for No. 2 on Friday. State - by virtue of a bye and the top seed as the regular season champion - will play at 11:30 a.m. The Yellow Jackets play the winner of Thursday's first-round match between West Virginia Wesleyan and Concord.
Franco's part in State's success isn't just because of winning - No. 2 Andreea Slusarciuc (12-0) is undefeated and won 2010 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year honors, and No. 4 Cora Berna (12-0) also is unbeaten. Additionally, Franco missed half the season while wading through eligibility red tape.
The difference is, the native of Deerfield Beach, Fla., hasn't been part of a school environment since the fifth grade. Franco, who didn't turn 18 until after the school year began (Sept. 2), has been home-schooled most of her life. Even the school listing on her W.Va. State website bio reads "Evert Tennis Academy."
"I lived in Florida my whole life. I wanted a difference experience and to get out on my own," said Franco, who admits most of her off-campus travels have featured trips to Wal-Mart and back.
At home, she spent very little time indoors, except in front of a computer with schoolwork, and played very little tennis under a roof.
In her first indoor match at college, she won in straight sets against Seton Hill, but struggled with the environment against the Griffins, who play all of their home matches inside at the Greensburg Country Club (Pa.).
"I would shank everything, everything would hit the frame," Franco said. "It was a different pace, maybe, I wasn't adjusting to the ball maybe."