MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- Barry University women’s tennis has a different look this year.
Gone are seven players from last year’s NCAA semifinalist team.
"It’s going to be a brand new team," fifth-year coach Avi Kigel said. "Everything will be new. However, we have a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of time to letting everybody adjust. If everybody will adjust, we will be very good."
It all starts Saturday when the Buccaneers open the season at Florida Tech in Melbourne.
Sophomore All-American Linda Fritschken and junior Akemi Maehama are the two mainstays back from last year. Fritschken went 13-1 in singles and 22-2 in doubles last year, earning ITA South Region Rookie of the Year honors. Maehama was 11-0 in singles and 4-0 in doubles.
"It’s great to have Linda back," Kigel said. "She had a great season last year. It gives us a lot of confidence to have her back. We expect her to play at a high level this spring, and to help with the leadership."
Five newcomers, including four freshmen are part of this new group. Elisabeth Abanda and Emma Onila will be making their Buccaneer debuts in the spring after attending the school for the past year. Both come in with high junior ranking pedigree.
Isabela Miro is a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma State. She competed in the fall for the Bucs, and brings a talented resume to the lineup.
"It’s a process," Kigel said. "Yes, we are going to count on them. Even though they are young, they have a lot of international experience. I expect that experience to come in handy for them in competition here."
Barry went 26-1 last year, its only loss coming to eventual national champ Armstrong Atlantic in the national semifinals. This year the Bucs enter the season with a No. 5 national ranking in NCAA Division II.
"It’s always nice to be ranked high in the national ranking, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really mean much because we have to be one of the top two teams in the regional," Kigel said. "It means nothing for us to qualify for nationals. We need to win a regional. Basically, by the end of the season, we will know where we stand and what’s our true ranking."
This year’s team will take some time to tinker with the lineup, what with four freshmen and five new players. Assistant coach Maria Lopez, last year's ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year, is on board full-time to bring addititional instruction to a talented program. As is new assistant Ana Maria Zuleta. Both played for Barry.
"With all the new girls, I really don’t know where everybody will fit in the lineup," Kigel said. "By the end of the fall semester, we had a team that really gets along, works really hard and like the philosophy of what we’re trying to achieve. We hope that the new girls that are coming in are going to fit right into that group, and we can move forward right away."
The Buccaneers will spend three days in early March in Valdosta, Ga., with key dates against West Florida and Valdosta State. Barry then will head to Texas, where they will play against No. 3 Abilene Christian, No. 21 St. Edward’s and No. 29 Incarnate Word.
The Bucs host No. 8 California-Pennsylvania on March 20 and No. 1 Armstrong Atlantic on March 22.
They host arch-rival Lynn, who enters the season with a No. 4 ranking, on April 1.
"We had a really fall with our training," Kigel said. "The girls on the team, they really understand our goals and what we’re trying to accomplish. They worked really hard, and we were really happy about the way we came together at the end of the fall.
"We’re definitely looking forward to continuining that cohesiveness we had in the fall with the new girls we’re bringing in. If we can continue to to work hard, the future will be bright."
One of the areas Kigel wanted to address was doubles play. Last year, Barry was 9-8 against nationally-ranked doubles units.
"I think that our doubles will be much better than last year," Kigel said. "Our goal is to find the right combination. We are definitely more talented in that area this year."
Barry was 20-7 against nationally-ranked singles competition. Fritschken had a 7-1 mark.
"The expectation is to come together and work hard every day to get better," Kigel said. "If that will happen, we will be very happy at the end of the year.
"All the girls, even though it’s going to be their first time playing college tennis, have a lot of international experience. We’re very excited about these five new players. The thing we have to wait and see is how they will come together as a team."