The University of Richmond women's tennis team is coming off an Atlantic-10 championship season, but the team is much younger this year than it was when the season ended in May.
The team lost three top players to graduation last spring, and replaced them with four freshmen who could contribute right away, coach Mark Wesselink said.
The returning players have improved from last season, he said.
"No one is treading water," he said. "I think this team, once they play some more together, could actually be as strong or stronger [than last year]."
One of the first challenges this summer was making sure the freshmen could fit in with the rest of the team, he said.
The fall season is used to develop team chemistry, gain more experience and improve conditioning at the collegiate level.
"In the fall you are probably just playing for an individual national ranking," Wesselink said.
In the spring, the team will compete for another A-10 title.
This part of the season helps determine each player's position on the team.
"I will look at the results of both these tournaments," Wesselink said. "They will weigh very heavily in what the lineup will be in the spring."
The team traveled to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., Sept. 11-13 to compete against some of the top teams in the country, and then to the Wake Forest Invitational from Sept. 26-28.
The College of William & Mary match showed the freshmen what to expect from collegiate tennis, junior Kelly Tidwell said.
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"The freshmen definitely stepped up and played well," she said. "I think it was a kind of awakening to the level of competition we are going to see."
Senior captain Erin Clark agreed.
"The freshmen definitely did not show any of the nerves that you expect," she said.
At Wake Forest, Clark lost two matches during the third set to nationally ranked opponents, including Wake Forest's Martina Pavelec and Illinois' Megan Fudge.
"Erin's aggressive style is developing into a game that makes her a threat to anyone," Wesselink said.
Clark also is developing a strong doubles pairing with sophomore Helen Cunningham. Doubles play is difficult because each player has to be on the same page with their partner in order to win points, Wesselink said.
"In doubles, it is not so much about winning the point on your own," he said. "It is about setting up your partner to win the point.
"The pairing could be one of the best the team has had in a long time. If we can figure out the right combinations at second and third doubles, it could be the crucial ingredient to this team's national success."
Contact staff writer Stephen Utz at firstname.lastname@example.org
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