Ryba steps up early on

The freshman has been playing No. 1 singles for the Gophers recently.

Sam Kraemer

Caroline Ryba didn’t have the opportunity to savor her final weeks at home before coming to the University of Minnesota.

The freshman rehabilitated a hip alignment issue within a month of joining the Gophers.

During that month, she couldn’t play tennis or go running. But luckily for her, the issue was fixed before she got to campus.

And once she arrived in Minneapolis, she refused to let the setback get in the way of success.

Despite losing her last four singles matches in 2014, Ryba is already 2-0 in singles this year — while playing at the top of Minnesota’s singles lineup.

“I found I’m someone that almost does better when I have more things going against me,” she said.

Ryba defeated University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Alysa Straub  6-0, 6-1 Saturday before defeating University of North Dakota’s Callie Ronkowski 6-1, 6-0.

Though she didn’t expect the quick success, Ryba said the team practices have propelled her game forward.

“Just trying to work on things that will help me in my matches like staying up on the baseline has helped a lot,” Ryba said.

She’s still adjusting to seeing her name atop the lineup for singles this early in her collegiate tennis career.

“Going into the year, my goal was just to be in the lineup and contribute however I could for the team,” Ryba said. “The fact that I’m at the top … I’m just proud.”

While she’s impressed head coach Chuck Merzbacher, he said he wasn’t too surprised by Ryba’s ability to quickly adjust to the college game.

“We’re excited about where she’s at, but we knew that she could be there,” Merzbacher said. “And I’m glad that she is there. She’s really serious about her tennis and cares about her game. She just does the small things that make a big difference.”

The Gophers are a stronger team in the Big Ten with their underclassmen, like Ryba and Mehvish Safdar, contributing early, Merzbacher said.

“Having young kids fortify things is very good for us,” he said. “We need it.”

Ryba’s early emergence for Minnesota has made it easier for star senior Tereza Brichacova to focus more on her game, rather than placing so much effort on team leadership, Brichacova said.

Brichacova said she admires Ryba’s dedication to the game.

“Caroline is willing to do anything to play well,” Brichacova said. “She has the potential, and we can expect big things from her.”

Merzbacher reiterated that point, saying that Ryba “gets better every day.”

Ryba’s play has allowed Merzbacher and associate head coach Whitney Taney to mix up the lineup, too.

Merzbacher said in a sport like women’s tennis — where redshirting isn’t exactly at the coach’s disposal — developing young players is crucial.

“You want young ones to contribute early so then by the time they’re juniors and seniors, nothing is really new,” Merzbacher said. “So, our goal is to get the young ones to make us better right away, and that really helps us. … It’s good that we have that right now, and I think it makes us better than we were last year.”