By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Baylor women’s tennis opens the season at 11 a.m. Sunday as they travel to Houston to take on Rice.
The Lady Bears are ranked No. 20 in the preseason national poll and were picked to finish fifth in the preseason Big 12 poll.
Baylor boasts a young lineup with five freshmen, three sophomores, one senior and a total of three returning players.
Head coach Joey Scrivano said he hasn’t coached a team this young in almost 10 years, but that Baylor team was one of the best in school history.
“Its been a long time since we’ve had a team this young,” Scrivano said. “This team has a lot of the characteristics of that 2008 team- young, but a lot of potential.”
The 2008 Baylor women’s tennis team went 32-3, including an undefeated conference schedule and a trip to the NCAA Tournament Finals.
Van Zyl said the freshmen on this year’s team have one extremely valuable quality: competitiveness.
“They love to compete, which is an awesome thing because tennis is about competing and making the opponent quit and I see the freshmen doing it very well,” Van Zyl said.
The Bears graduated two of their top three players from last season, Blair Shankle and Rhiann Newborn, while the third, Elizabeth Profit, transferred to Tennessee.
Van Zyl, the lone upperclassman on the team and likely the No. 1 player, said she has improved her game drastically from last year.
“The most improvement I’ve seen in my game is being more mentally tough, being more relaxed on the court and making better decisions,” Van Zyl said. “Learning how to play more strategically and also improving my fitness a lot.”
The other two returning players, Hinojosa and Shakhraichuk, often played at the No. 5 and No. 6 slots during the 2017 season.
Scrivano said the two sophomores need to stay consistent and keep improving as players.
“Angelina [Shakhraichuk] and Jessica [Hinojosa] were a big piece of the puzzle last season,” Scrivano said. “Our expectations of them is keep doing what they’re doing. Keep being rock solid and steady. As long as they keep learning and growing, they’ll be fine.”
Rice is unranked, but they have more experience with three seniors and a junior to lead them.
Scrivano said the Owls are a tough out, especially on their home court.
“We have a lot of respect for Rice,” Scrivano said. “This is going to be a really, really tough match. They definitely have more experience than us. This is going to be an incredibly good opportunity for us to see where we stand.”
Following the match against Rice, the Lady Bears return home to take on Western Michigan and New Mexico in a doubleheader at 11 a.m. on Jan. 26 at the Hurd Tennis Center.