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A&M Women's Tennis Opens Season Against Ole Miss

January 27, 2012
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)
The Texas A&M women's tennis team and first-year head coach Howard Joffe make their 2012 season debut Saturday against 37th-ranked Ole Miss in the opening round of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. First serve against the Aggies' future Southeastern Conference foe is slated for at 9 a.m. (CT) at the Scott Speicher Tennis Center on the Florida State University Campus.

Live scoring of the match will be available at AggieAthletics.com.

Also at FSU, the 18th-ranked Seminoles take on No. 56 Ohio State following the A&M-Ole Miss match.

The consolation match will be Sunday at 9 a.m., and the championship match is slated for 1 p.m. (CT) in Tallahassee. The winner of the championship match advances to the prestigious 16-team ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championships, hosted by the University of Virginia, Feb. 10-13 at the Boar's Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va.

"Obviously with the first match of the season, we are very excited to get the season started," Joffe said. "Viewed through the lenses of just simply a match, I'm sure we have a good amount of nerves and excitement and obviously want to do our best to get a win. Through more sustainable lenses, it is important for the girls to get in two matches, get some competition and for everyone to sort of start to get a little bit battle tested this weekend. So hopefully we can achieve both those things -- be successful and get battle tested -- but at a minimum we will be able to get the kids out on the court and compete."

The 29th-ranked Aggies, 23-7 in season openers since 1982, return four letterwinners from last year's team that went 15-9 and was No. 33 in the final team rankings after making a 12th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. Highlighting the list of returners is junior standout Nazari Urbina, who has competed in the NCAA Singles Championship in each of the last two years and was No. 29 in last year's final singles rankings after reaching a career-high No. 11 ranking midway through the 2011 season. Urbina, who will be returning to the court after being hampered by a wrist injury in the fall, enters the spring ranked No. 105.

Other letterwinners returning are seniors Sheri Olivier and Lauren Santacroce, along with redshirt junior Janelle Cuthbertson.

Joffe also welcomes four newcomers, including Maryland transfer Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar. The junior from Spain led the Aggies with a 13-4 singles record in the fall, including 6-3 against ranked opponents. She enters the spring as the highest nationally ranked singles player in the Big 12 Conference, coming in at a career-high No. 11.

Sun Wen, a two-time All-American at Tyler Junior College and the No. 1 ranked singles player in the nation coming out of the junior college ranks last spring, enters her Aggie dual career ranked No. 61 in the preseason ITA singles rankings.

Freshmen Janine Erasmus and Dané Vorster, currently out with an injury, also are in their first year competing for the Aggies.

"All through different lenses for our group, with the range of possibilities what is important to me is that we perform well and we play good tennis," Joffe said. "If, as a function of that, we do end up at the Indoors, it certainly wouldn't shock me, but the important thing is that during the course of the year we keep improving and getting better and try to perform at our best."

Ole Miss (2-0) opened its season last weekend, defeating both Hawaii Pacific and Hawaii in the Aloha State. The Rebels return five of their top seven players from last year's squad that went 11-11 and was No. 40 in the final rankings after falling to No. 17 Arizona State, 4-3, in the NCAA First Round. Eleventh-year head coach Mark Beyers also welcomes three freshmen who were listed as the 18th-ranked recruiting class in the nation.

The Rebels are led by All-American Kristi Boxx. The senior is ranked a career-high No. 12 in singles after going 10-3 in the fall with all three losses coming against opponents ranked No. 13 and higher. Boxx also is ranked a career-high fourth in the nation in doubles with senior partner Abby Guthrie. In addition, sophomore Caroline Rohde-Moe is No. 54 in singles after posting a 10-3 record in the fall.

Florida State, under the direction of eighth-year head coach Jennifer Hyde, is 1-0 entering its match against Ohio State after defeating Central Florida, 6-1, last Saturday. The Seminoles, who have three freshmen and zero seniors listed on this year's roster, went 16-9 last season and were 15th in the 2011 final poll after falling to SMU in the NCAA second round at Texas A&M's Mitchell Tennis Center.

Redshirt junior Noemie Scharle was ranked a team-high No. 40 in the ITA's September preseason singles rankings but sat out the fall with an injury. Seminole sophomore Ruth Seaborne was No. 99 in the fall preseason rankings.

No. 56 Ohio State enters the Kick-Off Weekend 2-1. Following a season-opening loss at South Florida, the Buckeyes rebounded with 7-0 shutouts against both West Virginia and Dayton last Saturday.  Chuck Merzbacher is in his 16th season at the helm of the Buckeyes, who were No. 57 in the final 2011 rankings after going 15-11.  His doubles tandem of Kara Cecil and Kelsey Dieters is No. 52 in the January preseason ranking.

A&M is 2-0 in the all-time series against Ole Miss but has not faced the Rebels since 1988. On the flipside, the Aggies are 0-2 all-time against FSU, with the last meeting taking place in 1995. A&M has never faced Ohio State.

"The format of this tournament is such that it does mimic a little bit of the NCAA tournament," Joffe said, "so later on in the year if we are fortunate enough to make it, the girls will have had a little bit of a dress rehearsal of sorts in terms of the format."

In addition to the possible berth into the National Team Indoor Championship, the Aggies play another three matches on the road - at LSU (Feb. 5), at Fresno State (Feb. 17), at Washington (Feb. 29) - before playing their home opener against Rice on Feb. 24.

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