Top players returning

Stephanie Strommen

For several seasons, the Gophers women’s tennis team has played out of the middle of the pack — a few bad bounces or close calls from breaking through to the upper division of the Big Ten.
And while the team is sure to see some more close matches this season, coach Martin Novak is clear about the goals for his team this year.
“We’re here to compete for the Big Ten title,” he said. “It’s a pack of about six or seven teams and we’re one of them.”
That’s a familiar situation for Big Ten women’s tennis — team parity. But with the return of top players junior Nora Sauska and seniors Alice Rangsithienchai, Jana Hrdinova and Tarah Elkins, Novak is hoping to be a few bad bounces and close calls better than the competition.
“We have come of age,” Novak said. “The team has a lot of experience and diversified styles of play which will help us match up.”
Sauska led the team from the top of the lineup last season, compiling a 23-7 record and earning the highest national ranking ever for a Gophers player.
But contributions from the seniors will be more important this season.
“It’s how the seniors perform,” Novak said. “but it’s a team sport, each player is a point and is important.”
The team became aware of Novak’s point after they were eliminated from the Big Ten tournament by a score of 4-3, the deciding point coming down to a singles match that Elkins lost in a tiebreaker.
Minnesota may have team depth as an additional weapon this season. New recruits Jenny Verhoward and Andrea Rose should see some action this season.
“I don’t see many weaknesses,” Novak said. “It’s the unknowns like extreme weather, personal problems and injuries. We need to keep those to a minimum.”
The Gophers begin competition on Sept. 24 in Baltimore, MD, at the National Clay Court Championship. The first practice for the team will begin Sept. 15.