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Gophers women’s tennis begins fall season with a fresh start

After a spring season full of mishaps and injuries, the Gophers women’s tennis team is looking to put the past behind them and start the new season with a winning mindset.
Image by Alex Karwowski
Sophomore Aiva Schmitz practicing her backhand in a cross-court drill on Sept. 22.

The Gophers women’s tennis team embraces a fresh start to their season after their first tournament of the fall season under a new head coach.

The Gophers had to forfeit their 2023 spring season due to an overwhelming number of injuries on the team. Since then, the program brought in a new coach, Lois Arterberry, from the University of St. Thomas.

Now, with a new season ahead of them and their first tournament completed, the team is hoping to put the past behind them and start fresh.

Sophomore Aiva Schmitz was on the team last season and welcomed the transition. According to Schmitz, she sees it as a chance to show other programs what Minnesota has been building throughout the offseason.

“We all just see it as an opportunity to really show everyone, ‘hey we’re back and we’re better and we can really work well together as a team,’” Schmitz said.

The team dynamic and coaching staff attracted talent from across the country. Anali Kocevar, a transfer from Grand Canyon University, came to the Gophers team after helping her previous team win the Western Athletic Conference and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Kocevar said she likes the camaraderie among the Gophers athletes and wanted the chance to play against Big Ten teams.

“I love the style of the coach that is here,” Kocevar said. “I also love the team vibes. I feel like it’s important to like the people you surround yourself with and here I can only say positive things.

Schmitz and Kocevar playing together in a warmup game on Sept. 22, 2023. (Image by Alex Karwowski)

Part of what brings the positive energy into the program is a practice Arterberry brought to the team called “Gratitude Friday,” where athletes, coaches and staff all gather in a circle and speak about what they’re grateful for.

“When you play with a mindset of ‘wow, I have this,’ it’s like I have to make the best out of it,” Arterberry said. “It’s just a different meaning when you say it out loud in front of everyone.”

Coach Arterberry leading the team in gratitude Friday before their practice on Sept. 22. (Image by Alex Karwowski)

Arterberry said the coaching staff has been working to create more opportunities for one-on-one time between players and a member of the staff. As of now, every athlete gets one session per week, but Arterberry is hoping to bump that up to two.

“We really get to hone in and focus on their individual needs,” Arterberry said. “We’ll work on the technical and tactical side of their game.”

Schmitz played doubles with both Sofia Pinto and Sofia Pizzoni and mentioned the team is primarily focused on figuring out each other’s playing styles, when deciding doubles partners.

“When we decide who plays with who, it kind of comes down to, ‘Oh I prefer the forehand, do you prefer the backhand,’” Schmitz said. “Communication-wise and vibes-wise, we all get along really well.”

The team was very chatty with each other and shared a few laughs while stretching before their practice on Sept. 22, an indication of a strong bond among the team.

Schmitz said her biggest goal for the team this year is to prove they are more than what they are on paper.

“I feel like we still have that reputation from last year and like all the mess that it was,” Schmitz said. “But I think we can be really good this year.” 

The Gophers finished out their first tournament of the season with overall records of 12-6 in doubles and 14-4 in singles.

Arterberry said the first tournament was great because it gave the team a baseline of what is needed before the spring season and Big Ten play.

The Gophers will travel to the San Diego State University Invitational and begin competition there on Sept. 29.

“When we go to San Diego, the level is a little bit higher, so I’m actually really excited to go see what our student-athletes do,” Arterberry said.

Between the new season for the Gophers and putting the past behind them, Arterberry agreed with Schmitz in that she believes her team can surprise a lot of programs this year.

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