And there is much to learn. What will life be like without two All-America players who have graduated? What will the four incoming freshmen bring to the table-- er, court? Will the hard work the four returning players put in over the summer pay off?
At the end of the 2003-04 season, the Vanderbilt women were ranked No. 2, behind NCAA champion Stanford, the highest post-season ranking ever of any Vandy varsity team. But this is a new year and a new team, Coach Geoff Macdonald cautions, and it is far too soon to lock in any lofty expectations.
Back is senior Audra Falk, who played No. l singles all last year and finished the season ranked No. 9 nationally, the first Vanderbilt underclassman to finish in the Top Ten. She is joined by her senior doubles partner, Annie Menees. Also returning are proven players Ashley Schellhas, a junior, and Amanda Fish, sophomore.
The four returnees worked hard on their games all summer, entering as many tournaments on their own as possible. "It wasn't something they had to do," said Assistant Coach Meike Babel. "They wanted to. They were hungry to get better-- and the feedback is positive!"
The freshmen are Amanda Taylor, three-time singles champion in the state of Washington; Caroline Ferrell, South Carolina ("has one of the best serves I've seen," says Coach Mac); Taka Bertrand, Virginia ("a tough, gritty player who reminds me of a female Mats Wilander"), and Julie Martin, from Oklahoma (her dad, Scott Martin, was a Big 8 tennis champ in the early 70's. (Martin's brother David was part of the Illinois team that won the NCAA championship in 2003, beating Vandy in the semis.)
The main objective this fall is to get the returnees and newcomers playing as a team, said Coach Babel, supporting and encouraging one another, hopefully developing the special chemistry which made last year's team so strong. It's also a time for the freshmen to get settled and ready for SEC-level competition.
Besides the Furman Invitational, the team will compete in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Tournament in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Oct. 3-10; the Miami Tournament, Miami, Fla., Oct. 15-17; and the SEC Fall Coaches Classic, Peachtree City, Ga., Nov. 4-7. Vanderbilt will be unable to host its own June Stewart Invitational Tournament this year due to the extensive upgrading underway on the outdoor courts at the Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Tennis Center.