U freshmen re-stock women’s tennis team

by Michael Rand

For the first time since 1989, the Gophers women’s tennis team is heading into a year on the heels of a winning season.
Last year’s squad finished 16-8, including a 9-4 conference mark and a tie for third place at the Big Ten tournament.
As coach Martin Novak prepares his team for its fall singles competition, his biggest question is whether the Gophers can continue what they started last season. Will they produce hit after hit like the Beatles, or will last season, like Don Mclean’s “American Pie,” be Minnesota’s lone salvation in a sea of mediocrity?
A quick glance may give the nod to Mr. Mclean.
Minnesota’s No. 1 singles player a year ago, Dana Peterson, graduated in the spring. The Gophers’ No. 1 singles player two years ago, Tiffany Gates, was injured for most of last season but was supposed to make a major contribution when healthy this year. She may yet contribute, but she won’t be doing it at Minnesota — the junior transferred to Notre Dame over the summer.
Still, Novak is convinced he has the Beatles, thanks to a recruiting class that could be dubbed the Fab Four — Meghan Donley, Nora Sauska, Kim Simonsen and Helen Wang.
“Each position this year can be improved from last year,” Novak said.
That is a confident, if not bold statement from a coach who entered last season with a 44-70 career record at Minnesota.
But Novak doesn’t just have the four freshmen to fall back on. Peterson and Gates are gone, but five out of the six players who started regularly for the Gophers — Alice Rangsithienchai, Jennifer Hayes, Jenni Svehla, Tarah Elkins and Jana Hrdinova — are back.
Those five players, along with the four freshmen and junior Ashley Fuller will be competing for six starting positions.
“The newcomers look great,” Novak said. “Right now the field is wide open.”
In fact, Novak is so poised for the season to begin that his biggest concern isn’t the team’s talent or momentum from last season — it’s the weather.
“We have to learn to play better outdoors, on the road,” he said. “Sometimes we have to go from indoor to outdoor in two days. We need to learn to adjust.”
Novak said he considers Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Indiana and Michigan to be the favorites for a Big Ten crown this year.
The Gophers begin their individual season Thursday at the T. Rowe Price Clay Courts Invitational in Baltimore.