New freshman yield high hopes for women’s tennis season

New freshman yield high hopes for womens tennis season

For junior Macall Harkins, last season was one of disappointment and angst. After transferring from the University of Illinois, Harkins was looking forward to contributing immediately to the women’s tennis team. Illinois, however, would not grant her release to join in NCAA play.

“I was able to get to know (my teammates) from what I guess you could call a cheerleader’s perspective,” Harkins said. “But I like to be in the competition as well. It was really difficult.”

She will get her chance this year to join the Horned Frogs, which enters the season ranked 35th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll. Harkins and her teammates look to rebound from last season’s 38th-ranked finish after top 20 campaigns in 2005 and 2006.

The team was not only hindered by Harkins’ ineligibility, but the departure of Karine Ionesco, whose graduation left a hole in a promising lineup. Head coach Jefferson Hammond said he believes the three new freshman on the team will be able to fill any cracks in the lineups this year, after the Lady Frogs were at times left with only five active players last spring.

Maria Babanova, Katariina Tuohimaa and Idunn Hertzberg are the new additions to the team and all three are international products. Babanova and Hertzberg played with the team last fall, while Tuohimaa joined just weeks ago.

“Idunn comes in with a really steady game and a great approach to tennis – she’s very even keel,” Hammond said.

He also praised the young Babanova, who turned 17 her first week of school.

“She’s very young, but she continued to improve all semester and shows a lot of promise in doubles,” Hammond said. “Katariina brings a ton of experience in doubles from the International Tennis Federation women’s circuit and is as good a recruit as anyone across this country could ask to get.”

Now the question is whether Harkins and the youth can mesh with the returning talent such as All-American Anna Sydorska and junior Nina Munch-Soegaard, who enters the year ranked 66th nationally.

“Even though it has only been a few months for (Babanova and Hertzberg) and even less for Katariina, they have been incorporated into our team like they’ve been here for four years,” Harkins said.

Senior captain Kewa Nichols agreed and said she has lofty, top-20 expectations for her final season.

“We definitely had some changes that happened between the two years, but every year is different and I know we will bounce back this year,” Nichols said.

The team will be tested early this season with a Texas tour opening at 23rd-ranked UT, followed by a trip to UNT, returning home to face 25th-ranked Texas A&M and ending at 13th-ranked Baylor. Last season, the Lady Frogs struggled with both A&M and Baylor, losing both meetings with both teams.

Hammond said he will take the season one game at a time.

“One or two matches and the whole thing is flip-flopped. I’m not looking at A&M and I’m not looking at Baylor,” Hammond said.

The wait has been long for the Horned Frogs to prove that they are better than they finished last season. It has been even longer for Harkins to get a chance to compete on the court. Both are ready.

“As a team (our goals are), to win our conference, be able to improve our ranking and make it to the NCAA’s, but our personal goals are to really come together as a team and fight for each match that we play.”

The Horned Frogs home opener is against Texas A&M, Saturday, Feb. 16th.