Ten teams to make way to Baseline this weekend

A message to those who enjoy sleeping in on weekends: Set your alarm clocks. Friday morning at 9:00 the Minnesota womenâÄôs tennis season officially begins, setting off a series of games that will be taking place early and often. Coach Tyler Thomson âÄòs squad opens the fall season with numerous other teams competing in the 2008 Gopher Invitational . The tournament, part of what Thomson referred to as the âÄúpreparatory season,âÄù runs Friday through Sunday at the Baseline Tennis Center . This yearâÄôs diverse field will feature an impressive 10 teams from seven different conferences . Although no team scores will be kept, that isnâÄôt stopping players from taking their play seriously. âÄúThe first tournament for me is always the most important,âÄù senior Karina Chiarelli said, âÄúItâÄôs important that we start with the right foot.âÄù Thomson is hesitant to overhype the Gopher Invitational, however. âÄúI donâÄôt really have any expectations,âÄù he explained. âÄúAll of [the players] have prepared differently over the course of this summer and each of them certainly has the ability to do well.âÄù A deep field ensures the Gophers will start their season with several strong tests. âÄúI think that all the girls that are coming are very good,âÄù Chiarelli said. Thomson agreed, calling the collection of teams at the invitational âÄúa good field.âÄù âÄúThere are some quality players here,âÄù he warned, âÄúso [the Gophers] will have to fight for whatever they earn.âÄù However, Thomson is sure Minnesota will be ready for the competition. âÄúI donâÄôt think there are going to be many teams that are more fit than our players on the court,âÄù he articulated. Team-building will also be an area of focus for the Gophers this weekend. Chiarelli called unity the âÄúmost important strengthâÄù for the team. Thomson concurred, saying that the players âÄúcertainly need to find their identity as a unit.âÄù For Minnesota, now would be as good a time as any. All 13 members of the team will attend the tournament, whereas just 10 players can travel later in the fall and only eight are allowed to travel during the spring . Freshman Niltooli Wilkins of Burnsville will be one of those players not participating in the tournament, but that wonâÄôt stop her from cheering on her teammates. âÄúWe have a lot of potential this year,âÄù Wilkins said. âÄúIf we just stay positive and believe in ourselves, we should do well.âÄù On top of clarifying team issues, the Gopher Invitational will also provide Thomson the chance to scout out future opponents. Though Iowa will be the only other Big Ten team in attendance, Big 12 member Nebraska is a team the Gophers will face next year . Thomson said he plans to âÄúlook at some of the younger playersâÄù of the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers, and added that visiting Louisiana State University is a model of success to which Minnesota can aspire. âÄúLSU has some players who are pretty high in the national rankings,âÄù he said. âÄúSo theyâÄôll give us an opportunity to see what the bar is if we want to ascend to that level.âÄù Still, Thomson just wants the Gophers to keep things simple and âÄúplay high-percentage tennis.âÄù In any case, the coach wonâÄôt be fretting over his teamâÄôs finish. âÄúMy goal is for us to play smart tennis, to compete our butts off every single point, and to have a unified team,âÄù he said. âÄúIn terms of results, itâÄôs way too early to even think about that. I just want to see consistent competition and smart play.âÄù