With the addition of seven new players to accompany seven returning players, Minnesota's women's tennis team will rely on many unfamiliar faces to return the Gophers to the upper echelon of the Big Ten this spring.
But first, Minnesota will have to integrate the old with the new this fall, which coach Tyler Thomson said already has begun during the first week and a half of practice.
"There are a handful of people on this team that I've never seen compete in an actual college match," Thomson said. "I'm going to be curious to see the competitive level of our team.
"Not just how they stack up against their opponents, but how they compete, how hard they work on the court."
The Gophers will put their overhauled lineup on display for the first time this weekend when Minnesota hosts the Gopher Invitational, Friday through Sunday at Baseline Tennis Center.
The three-day tournament features eight other teams - Air Force, Boston University, Iowa, Gonzaga, Missouri, Nebraska, Wichita State and Wisconsin-Green Bay - competing in four singles draws and two doubles draws. Matches will begin at 9 a.m. each day.
Last spring Minnesota went 2-8 in the Big Ten and finished the year with a 5-18 mark. The Gophers' season concluded with a 4-3 first-round loss to Penn State at the Big Ten Championships in Champaign, Ill.
But with five freshmen and two transfers, Thomson said he thinks Minnesota has the talent and depth to competitively challenge other Big Ten foes.
Of the newcomers, Thomson said freshman Tijana Koprivica, junior Alex Seaton and senior Ashley Schellhas should be fixtures in the Gophers' starting lineup and make major contributions throughout the season.
Thomson said Koprivica could be Minnesota's most prominent newcomer. Koprivica comes to the Gophers from Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro, where she was named Serbian national champion multiple times during her junior career.
Seaton, who grew up in Edina, originally was recruited by Minnesota but chose to compete on the East Coast at Colgate, prior to returning to her home state.
Schellhas is the most experienced addition, and with her résumé, Thomson likely will compete for a top singles spot. Schellhas was a starter on Vanderbilt's Final Four team back in 2003 and 2004 and was ranked in the top 10 in the nation during her junior career.
"We're really excited to have them all here," senior Ida Malmberg said. "Ashley (Schellhas) and Alex (Seaton) are both used to playing tennis at a high level and have a lot to give to the team."
Another player who has something to give to the team is senior Lindsay Risebrough, who was injured last season.
Thomson said he wants to bring Risebrough along slowly, so she will play only doubles this weekend.
Risebrough said she is thrilled to return to Minnesota's lineup this weekend.
"I'm just excited to be back on the court," she said. "I'm not going to try and put too much pressure on myself. I just want to enjoy being out there."
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