Thornqvist

Roland Thornqvist looks on as his team competes in singles during its win against South Florida on Jan. 27, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.

Alligator File Photo

Coming off a year in which the Gators won their seventh national championship, the women’s tennis team will be looking forward to a strong season with the help of many upperclassmen.

The season begins Friday with half of the team traveling to Cary, North Carolina, to compete in the Duke Invitational. Originally, the Gators were scheduled to compete in the USTA Bahama Invite, but the competition was canceled due to Hurricane Irma.

The other half will be traveling to Newport, Rhode Island, this weekend to compete in the Hall of Fame/ITA Grass Court Invitational.

The 4-1 victory against defending champion and sixth-ranked Stanford to claim the NCAA title will be plenty of motivation for the Gators as they prepare for the regular season.

Many of the individual tournaments this fall will consist of traditional singles and double draws competitions. These tournaments will help prepare the Gators for future matches against rivals like Florida State and Stanford.

Overall, the Gators have a tough schedule. In the spring, they will start off with competing in four nonconference matches before jumping into 10 straight SEC matches. After that, their only break from conference play is competing against Texas in April, which is then followed by another three SEC match-ups before they begin the SEC tournament.

The schedule will not be the only challenging factor for the team this season. Combined losses from the senior class and other underclassmen has dropped the team’s roster from eight to six players this season. This year marks the first time they’ve had a team this small since the 2001 season.

The team lost Ingrid Neel, who decided to play professionally this summer after she finished her freshman season with the Gators. Neel proved to be a key player after going 21-9 last season and having one of the highest doubles records with Anna Danilina.

The team will also have to deal with the senior losses of Kourtney Keegan, Spencer Liang and Belinda Woolcock. The team will look to the current seniors and returning players – Brooke Austin, Danilina, Josie Kuhlman and Peggy Porter – for guidance as they show newcomers Victoria Emma and Katie Kubicz the ropes this season.

Strong recurring performances from Danilina and Kuhlman could propel Florida into another successful season. At the end of the 2016-17 season, Danilina finished with a 37-10 singles record, while Kuhlman finished with a singles record of 31-10.

Other noteworthy performances from last season include Austin, who finished with a singles record of 18-5, and Porter, who finished with a 6-3 singles record.

Austin, Danilina and Kuhlman already have national preseason rankings for singles of No. 93, No. 15 and No. 12, respectively. Danilina and Kuhlman are currently ranked as No. 59 in the doubles chart.

The current NCAA rankings for Intercollegiate Tennis Association have Florida ranked as No. 1, followed by Stanford in second place and then Ohio State in third.

You can follow Mari Faiello @faiello_mari, and contact her at [email protected].