Women look to build asteady home court advantage

by Stephanie Strommen

Finding courts to practice on has been the biggest challenge of the early season for the Gophers women’s tennis team, as the University makes way for new facilities on the site of the old courts behind Mariucci Arena.
The team was forced to practice at various sites last season and will continue to do so this year. That schedule both hurt and helped the Gophers a year ago; they found stability in the indoor season, earning four Big Ten wins, but could not make the switch outdoors.
“We played very well inside,” coach Martin Novak said. “But we had a hard time preparing for the (outdoor) matches, borrowing courts from other places.”
After starting last season with a string of victories, the team lost several close matches and finished with an 11-10 record.
“It was an even year last year,” Novak said. “This year, with a better solid home court advantage we will have a chance to really compete.”
This season begins with several individual tournaments in the fall season. The team opens Sept. 22 at the National Clay Court Tournament in Baltimore. It is one of four “Grand Slam” tournaments, allowing bonus points for victories which improve team ranking.
Last season the team was led by junior Nora Sauska, who compiled a 24-7 record and All-Big Ten honors. Sauska ranks 52nd nationally and a strong showing at the Clay Courts should help her improve upon that mark. She was placed in the qualifying round with the top 100 players entered.
Sauska will be joined by senior Alice Rangsithienchai (18-12 last season at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles with Sauska), who was accepted into the pre-qualifying round.
Sauska and Rangsithienchai rank 14th as a doubles team. A strong pair at the top of the lineup helps to improve team ranking, Novak said, but doesn’t always help win matches.
“Even if we win at the number one spots, that’s only two points,” Novak said. “You have to have the entire team to play and win.”
Novak is optimistic about the depth of his team this season. All of the returnees were starters at one point last season, with juniors Tarah Elkins (19-12) and Jana Hrdinova (17-11) and sophomore Kim Simonsen (14-9) as primary contributors. Four new players will join the team: freshmen Jennifer Howard of Ontario and Andrea Rose of Vancouver, and walk-ons Liz Armstrong of Afton, Minn., and Gina Strauss of East Grand Forks, Minn.
“I’m optimistic and I’m looking forward to the season,” Novak said. “I will try to keep the players healthy and happy so we can do really well.”