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ND Women’s Tennis: Irish break in new freshmen, experienced seniors

By Samantha Zuba | Wednesday, August 28, 2013

With a fresh season on the horizon, Notre Dame has a lot of “new” to deal with: new goals, three new teammates and a new conference.

The team’s first matches will be important tests. Irish coach Jay Louderback said. Louderback said he isn’t looking for the perfect answers just yet, but he wants the Irish to get comfortable playing tennis again.

“The big thing for the entire fall is mainly beginning to play a lot of matches,” Louderback said. “In the fall, there is more development time than in the spring with dual matches.”

The Irish will split up to compete at both Michigan’s Wolverine Invitational and the Ball State Fall Invitational on Sept. 20-22. 

Louderback said the open invitational tournaments are an especially good opportunity for players to find their strokes again and face a variety of opponents.

“They’re open tournaments, so there’s a lot of different teams there,” Louderback said. “Our kids just play. We’re just looking to get matches in.”

Notre Dame will field three freshmen on its roster. Louderback said the newcomers would have to adjust to the team element of college tennis, as opposed to the more individual play of high school and junior tennis. 

“[College tennis is] such a different dynamic than it is in the juniors,” Louderback said. “As our kids have been here a year or two years, they get used to playing for a team. In the juniors, you’re playing for yourself and all of a sudden when you get to college, you’re playing for a team. The big thing is playing under pressure for a team.”

The Irish have three seniors Louderback said he hopes can provide solid leadership for the team’s new faces. Seniors Julie Sabacinski, Jennifer Kellner and Britney Sanders gained leadership experience last season on a roster with only one senior.

“We have a great group of seniors,” Louderback said. “We have a big group. I think they did a good job last year. We only had one senior, so we counted on our juniors more than usual. We have three on the team this year, so we feel like we should have good leadership. All three have played a lot of tennis for us, so they know what we expect. We have three freshmen, so that leadership will be key.”

Sanders earned Big East Player of the Year honors last season, and Louderback said Sanders’ swift rise from No. 3 singles as a sophomore to No. 1 as a junior last year should give her the confidence to excel this season.

“[Sanders] had a great year last year,” Louderback said. “She had played No. 3 the year before and as a junior, she stepped up and played No. 1 for us. That experience is going to be key for her. She knows what to expect, and she knows who the good players are.”

Louderback said developing knowledge of the competition is especially important for Sanders to succeed at No. 1 singles.

“Everyone has a good No. 1 player, so you don’t get a break,” Louderback said. “Brit handled it well last year, and we look for that experience to help her this year.”

Sanders and the rest of the Notre Dame squad will also face the challenge of moving to the ACC this season. 

Louderback said the transition to a new conference will be a challenge, but he envisions big things for the Irish.

“Of course, this year is going to be a little different going into the ACC,” Louderback said. “We were ranked 23rd last year, and there were six ACC teams ahead of us. Our big thing is to compete and do well in the ACC and see how well we can finish. I think we have a shot to be a top 10 team.”

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu