Pieces coming together for women
by Eric Raub
Little by little, the women's tennis team is getting there.
in focus: women's tennis
Most recently: Freshman Annie Goodrich and junior Judith Hagedorn won the flight B backdraw and junior Erin Waters won two matches in flight A singles to highlight Rice's effort at the Yellow Jacket Invitational last weekend.
Up next: The Owls face the toughest field they've seen at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Southwest Regional Qualifier, which runs from today through Monday.
The last couple of weeks have seen across-the-board improvements for the Owls, who entered the fall season with a ton of unknowns. But the freshmen have continued their strong play and the top-ranked upperclassmen are starting to hold their own against the best.
At the Wake Forest University Invitational Oct. 13-15, freshman Yasmin Fisher finished second in flight D singles after falling to the University of South Florida's Claudia Nieto 6-3, 6-4 in the championship match.
Fellow freshmen Karen Chao and Annie Goodrich also did well as both won their final matches in the flight C consolation draw.
Junior Natalie Briaud also posted some impressive wins, blanking one opponent and beating the University of Richmond's Monika Peetes in a close 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 match.
"Wake Forest had some pretty bright spots as far as singles was concerned," assistant coach Roger White said. "Natalie, Yasmin, and Annie all played really well in singles. Our doubles struggled a little bit. During the week, we tried to recover and regroup."
While the freshmen were playing their matches at Wake Forest, junior Judith Hagedorn and senior Erin Waters competed in the Riviera Women's All-American Championship in Los Angeles, the second leg of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Grand Slam.
Hagedorn lost her first round match to Boise State University's Renate Stoop 7-5, 7-5. Waters captured a win in the first round before stumbling 6-0, 6-3 against Fresno State University's Liesl Fichtbauer.
Though neither went very far in the tournament, they say that it was an important learning experience.
"I was really happy to win my first match," Waters said. "The girl was a really tough player. Judith and I really learned how hard you have to work for every point against the really tough players."
The Owls reunited at Georgia Tech University to compete in the Yellow Jacket Invitational Oct. 20-22. Things improved on the doubles side as Goodrich and Hagedorn teamed up to win the flight B backdraw.
Waters earned two important flight A singles wins, including one against the University of Iowa's Toni Neykova, the tournament's No. 2 seed.
The Owls said both the wins and the losses were important in Georgia.
"Atlanta was another tough tournament," Waters said. "Other people lost a few matches, but they were the kind of losses that only help you improve your game."
The Owls now head to College Station for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Southwest Regional Qualifier, which begins today and runs through Monday.
It will be the team's toughest tournament of the year since at least half a dozen Texas teams finished last year in the national rankings. But the Owls are expecting success across the board.
"I've learned so much in the short time I've been here," Fisher said. "I hope to play well, and that's all you can hope to do. Progressively, we've played better and better. I know I have, and I've seen the other girls doing so too. I think we're ready."
Waters, who heads Rice's lineup, feels she has learned how to compete in an unforgiving field.
"I feel like my game is ready," Waters said. "I'm ready to play at regionals, where you have to work hard for every point.
"At the lower levels, I could make errors, but if you do that at the top or have a lapse in concentration, it's the end of the match."
The regional tournament often comes too soon for some teams who are trying to work out injuries or improve team cohesion. The Owls expect to have none of those problems and anticipate peaking this weekend to play their best tennis yet this season.
"The chemistry is at the highest level I've seen since I've been here," White said. "We have a really deep team."
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