Jan. 12, 2012
Before they open their spring dual season in one week at home, the Rice women's tennis team will take to the courts for the first time in 2012 by participating in the UCF Invitational in Orlando, Florida over the weekend.
The Owls, who open the dual season ranked 71st in the country, will face 48th ranked Texas Tech and host UCF in a daily set of doubles and singles matches, which will give the younger Owls a taste of the dual format for the first time.
"This is a great opportunity for us to play matches in competitive situations against some pretty good opposition" Rice head coach Elizabeth Schmidt said. "We will play doubles and singles each day, but not against the same team in both matches. It's a nice transition for our younger players who have most of their experience playing tournaments. They will get a feel for the dual match format in general, but most importantly, they experience the timing of a dual match for the first time. It's a new experience for them to start your singles match 10 minutes after you complete the last doubles match," she noted.
Entering her fourth year guiding the Owls, Schmidt is enthused about her teams' chances of improving upon their 2011 spring campaign, when the posted a 14-10 record and held a spot in the national rankings in the entire season for the first time since 2008.
"I'm really excited about where we are right now as a team," she said. "Everybody came back from the break with a focus and a hunger and seems excited to get the spring season started. One of our trainers told me that the team really had a spring in their step. Our fitness level is really advanced and I give our Kristi Bell, our strength coach, credit for putting together a great program that allowed them to progress during the fall," she added.
Schmidt's youthful team will feature just one senior (Ana Guzman) and a pair of juniors (Daniella Trigo and Katie Gater), in addition to three sophomores (Dominique Harmath, Kimberly Anicete and Leah Fried) and two freshmen (Natalie Beazant and Stephanie Nguyen).
After battling some nagging injuries last year, Schmidt noted that her lone senior, Guzman appears focused for the start of her final year of competition. "Ana really looks ready to go and has high expectations for this team in her senior year."
Guzman has 78 career wins in dual singles and doubles action in her three seasons with the Owls. Anicete and Harmath shared the Keating Award as the team's most outstanding player as freshmen and Harmath was named to the All C-USA second team by league coaches. Gater is a transfer from Virginia who played for two years on the Cavilers' nationally-ranked squad. Trigo has been a fixture in the lineup her first two years, while Fried put together a solid fall campaign. Newcomers Beazant and Nguyen also performed well in their first semester on campus.
Beazant parlayed a strong fall campaign to enter the season ranked 15th in singles in the Texas region and teams with Harmath to form the regions sixth-ranked doubles team Harmath enters spring play ranked 18th in singles, while Gater will take the court ranked 20th in the region.
Schmidt sees the weekend of training and competition as the ideal format to prepare her team for the coming dual campaign.
"This is the first time we've done something like this to start the season, but after reflecting on last year, I felt like we needed a way to get in some extra matches at the start of the year in advance of the dual season. The goal of the weekend is about playing matches that will help us prepare for the start of the dual season," she added.
"It's also a great opportunity for the team to get away together and have some fun in addition to getting in a day of training and three days of competition," she stated.
The Owls will open their 2012 dual schedule on January 20 when they host the Lamar Cardinals at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium at 1 p.m.