GRAND FORKS, N.D. --- The University of North Dakota women's tennis team is set to enter a new era starting tomorrow evening as it opens its season at 6 p.m. against Minnesota State-Moorhead.
UND will open the season in its new home at the Choice Health and Fitness Center, part of a four-match home stand to start the season, including its first Big Sky Conference matches on Feb. 1-2 against Montana and Montana State, respectively.
Head coach Tom Wynne admittedly is excited for the season with the new conference and the new facilities, but knows that there will be a learning curve and that the competition level is taking a large step up.
"We haven't had a home event per se in the last five years," Wynne said. "That is something that is new and something that is exciting. Grand Forks has a vibrant tennis community and we are hoping we can get some people out to watch. We have to put a good enough product out there to do it, but I think as time goes on we will get some rivalries going with these teams."
The UND women's team was picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the Big Sky Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll.
"In the fact that three-quarters of the teams we play I haven't seen before, I am a little reticent to say how we are going to do," Wynne said. "I do think with this new league that we will have to play well to keep our heads above water. I am going to be conservative and say our goal is to improve every time out.
"The only teams in the Big Sky that we have any previous experience with is Idaho State and Southern Utah. Everybody else will be new to us so it will be a year of gauging were we stand."
North Dakota will have plenty of talent and know-how to build upon heading into the year as it returns six upperclassmen who all have at least one full year of playing experience.
"We have a couple seniors in Mindy Lawrence and Megan Sween that will be playing in the middle-to-lower range of our lineup," Wynne said. "We then have a couple of juniors that will be playing at the top of our lineup in Stephanie Petsis and Callie Ronkowski. Add in juniors Stephanie Biehn and Sarah Stejskal, everybody has got a little bit of experience and I would say we don't have to have anybody showing the way. They have all been there before. It is just that the level of play is so new it will be interesting to see how they respond."
What will be new to the team is adjusting to the travel as it will spend a lot more time in the air instead of on the highways for league matches.
"A lot of our travel is different this year," Wynne said. "In the past we would bus a lot and get out and play, but now in the Big Sky Conference we fly a lot so it will be a little bit different and exciting for the team."
After getting a taste of Big Sky play against Montana and Montana State, UND returns to nonconference play for seven consecutive matches throughout February, but closes out the regular season with eight straight league tilts against conference opponents in March and April to set the table for the BSC Tournament on April 26-27 in Sacramento, Calif.
"Our motto is going to have to be 'Will Beats Skill' because we will probably be playing kids with more skill level than us. We've got a good group of hard working kids though and I think that will translate into some wins."
Another pleasant addition for the women this season has been the tutorship received from new assistant coach Tanya Gombera. Gombera graduated from Akron in 2009 where she was a four-year letterwinner for the Zips' No. 1 singles and No. 2 doubles and finished her career in the top-10 of most combined singles and doubles wins.
"The addition of Tanya Gombera has really helped the attitude of the women's team as well as she has been really good at motivating the kids and they have responded to her really well. She has been a great help for me."