Team preps freshmen

Sam Kraemer

The focus of this weekend’s Gopher Invitational for the women’s tennis team won’t solely be on victories.

Instead, head coach Chuck Merzbacher will zone in on his team’s underclassmen and how they adapt to college tennis.

“I always like to focus on the [underclassmen] … to make sure they have support there. The fall is for teaching,” Merzbacher said.

The Gopher Invitational the first fall tournament scheduled for the team as it prepares for spring competition.

Iowa State, Kentucky, Milwaukee and Big Ten foes Iowa and Wisconsin are among the top other schools traveling to the Baseline Tennis Center this weekend.

The teams will play singles and doubles brackets, allowing them to mix up their lineups in preparation for the season. Above all, the tournament provides a benchmark that players and coaches can build off while facing different teams.

“It’s OK to play against each other … but it’s always better to go out and play against other teams,” Merzbacher said.

With a strong recruiting class, Merzbacher said, the Gophers now have 10 good players who will compete for starting spots in singles and doubles.

The head coach said he’ll rely on seniors Tereza Brichacova and Aria Lambert for leadership.

“You couldn’t ask for better senior leaders. They know how to win,” Merzbacher said. “They compete and don’t back down. Their leadership will be huge for us this year.”

Brichacova, who was recognized on last year’s All-Big Ten Second Team, will also compete at the ITA All-American Championships in California. She said this weekend’s play will give the team a good indication of their strengths and weaknesses.

“I don’t think there are high expectations, because it’s our first tournament,” she said. “It’s the first little step toward a big season.

Brichacova and Lambert will assist the underclassmen with applicable advice from their college careers.

“We kind of take them in, get to know them and familiarize them with the campus and the team,” Lambert said.

Lambert said she sees the Gopher Invitational as an opportunity for the team to get back into the swing of college tennis, a sentiment her coach agreed with.

“It’ll be in a tournament format, but the goal is to get ready for the spring season,” Merzbacher said. “We just need matches.”