The UF women's tennis team starts its individual tournament circuit today with five players and room for improvement. Last year's squad finished the season ranked No. 5 in the nation but was barely inched out in the Southeastern Conference Championship by Georgia 4-3.
While a typical tennis team has at least six players, UF will start the year with only five. This isn't necessarily a negative for the Gators, as team play does not begin until January.
"We have three coaches and five players, so they'll get a lot of individual attention this fall," said coach Roland Thornqvist, who was on a recruiting trip Wednesday.
The Gators have been practicing for only two weeks so far and look to use the upcoming Gator Fall Classic, which runs from Friday to Sunday, to prepare for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American tournament in two weeks.
One Gator who has experience with All-American honors is Megan Alexander. In 2007, as a freshman, Alexander was named to the ITA All-American Team for her performance in singles competition. Last year, Alexander followed up her previous season's success by being named to the 2008 ITA All-American Team, this time for her doubles play with partner Marrit Boonstra.
While she achieved success with Boonstra, Alexander's play in singles competition was not her best, and she hopes to bounce back.
"This past summer I worked hard, stayed in shape, played, so when I came back it wasn't like starting all over again," Alexander said.
Alexander, who came in as tennisrecruiting.net's No. 7 player, has plenty of experience in important tournaments, which should help her lead her younger teammates.
"The freshmen are watching us, the upperclassmen and returners, so we don't have to say too much," Alexander said. "They just kind of watch us and follow our lead. But they're great players and hard workers, so … they're ready to go."
The young players better be ready to go, because the SEC is loaded with a handful of teams hungry for a championship, including an Arkansas team that sports ITA's No. 1 player, Aurelija Miseviciute. But the preseason favorite is incumbent Georgia, which returns five of its top six players from last season.
"Georgia is going to have to be considered the far-and-away front-runner to win the title this year. … (It) will be nice for us to maybe chase somebody for a change," said Thornqvist, who has led the Gators to four SEC regular season titles and a national title in his seven years with the team.
As for which players will be pairing up in doubles competition, only one team is established going into the season. Alexander and Boonstra are the sixth-ranked duo.
"We have really good chemistry on the court," Boonstra said. "Our games match each other. I'm looking forward to playing doubles with her at the All-American."
The other players still don't know who will partner with each other and hope to establish that by the end of the fall.
Assistant head coach Dave Balogh said they want to find players who complement each other.
"This one's really aggressive on the net, this one's really aggressive at the baseline. We want that," Balogh said on what makes good partners.
One thing the team is looking to overcome is the loss of Julia Cohen. Cohen, who transferred to Miami, competed at the No. 1 singles position for the Gators last season and was named the SEC Rookie of the Year.
"Julia wanted to go back home. She's lived in Miami for a long time," Thornqvist said. "We certainly enjoyed having Julia here. She's a tremendous competitor, worked really hard. We want the best for her."