New head coach brings ‘good change’ to Gophers women’s tennis

Catrina Thompson came to Minnesota after serving as a Notre Dame assistant coach.

Head women's tennis coach Catrina Thompson observes practice on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Head women’s tennis coach Catrina Thompson observes practice on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Max Biegert

The Gophers will be learning under women’s tennis head coach Catrina Thompson, and the newly hired head coach might be learning, too.

Thompson was hired in June to replace Chuck Merzbacher after she worked as an assistant at Notre Dame for the past three years.

“Being in … the Big Ten was something I was very excited about when looking to come here,” Thompson said. “Everybody I talked to said great things about Minnesota and everyone was so welcoming when I got here. I’m excited to be here and now I have a chance to develop a team.”

Thompson became the seventh head coach in women’s tennis history and the first female coach since Ellie Peden 1975-1983. 

Before working as an assistant at Notre Dame, Thompson was an assistant at both Boise State and Yale. 

When coaching at Notre Dame, each of the teams she coached qualified for the NCAA regionals, along with three individual qualifiers from her teams. At Boise State, she earned the 2013 ITA Mountain West Assistant Coach of the Year.

She also spent time playing in the pros, winning four professional doubles events. 

With those experiences, she understands where players come from and what it is like to be a college tennis player at a big time school. 

She hopes to use the successes from her playing days as learning tools to help coach her new team to new heights.

“I have been in their shoes, I know what it takes to be successful and I want to help our girls reach their goals and help them to become successful,” Thompson said. 

With change comes an adjustment period for the players. Mehvish Safdar is a senior on the team who has played in many events for the Gophers. Safdar said she is excited for the new change. 

“It is definitely an adjustment, but I think it is a good change and the coaches are really pushing us to help us reach our full potential,” Safdar said. “They know what it takes to be successful.”

The main areas Thompson mentioned are discipline and hard work. With just over a week of practice, the team noticed a significant change in those two areas.

“There has been a lot of good change; she is teaching us discipline on the court at all times,” said senior Caroline Ryba. “Not slacking off in practice and upping the intensity of everything.”

Thompson inherits a team that has finished in the middle of the pack the last few years in the Big Ten and hopes to see a smooth transition with her becoming the new head coach. 

For Thompson, even though the end goal is to win, she looks forward to seeing progress in each of her players. 

“A goal this year would be competing to get an NCAA [berth] both as a team or individually, with that comes hard work,” Thompson said. “Also, just to see growth in the players, see that the transition is easy for them and just hearing from them that they are making progress are all good goals to have.” 

In one of her first moves as head coach, Thompson decided to bring in assistant coach Brian Ward to help her out.

She said Ward will be a major asset because he is from Minnesota. 

With both of them being hired recently, they will use this fall to see which players will match up well with each other and find out more about their team, so they will be ready to go come spring.

Thompson and the Gophers will have their first fall meet this weekend at Drake University, starting Sept. 15.

“I am excited to get this new season started, it seems like we have a great group, they are driven, we just have to continue to work hard,” Thompson said.