Jan. 12, 2012
Coming off their most successful regular season since 2004, the Mizzou women's tennis team looks to take the next step in 2012 under the leadership of first-year Head Coach Sasha Schmid. A successful coach at Stetson University, Schmid turned around the Hatter program and posted a record of 49-21 the last three seasons.
Schmid will have help on the sidelines, as Assistant Coach Jason Potthoff joined the staff in June. He is Mizzou's first-ever full-time assistant coach, as all previous assistants were at the part-time level. Additionally, the Tigers will once again be able to host outdoor home matches at home in 2012 with the completion of six new outdoor courts at the Green Tennis Center.
Thanks in part to the recent fall season, Schmid says the team is now fully acclimated to her system and can build on what in learned in the fall and put it toward the spring season.
"There was definitely a transition process in the beginning of the fall but we kind of hit our stride at the end of the September," Schmid said. "Once they got used to how we run practice and our expectations, it was great."
"Our goal is to be excellent," Schmid said. "That changes as the season goes on because we'll continue to be a work in progress, in that we're continuing to improve and reach our potential. That we're excellent in everything, behavior on the court, desire to be the best, work hard, in the classroom and teammates to each other and respectful of each other. That's always what we're working to do and there's never really a finish line to that."
"But in general, the team has a core of really good competitors," Schmid added. "They're tough, they're getting tougher but we don't think they even realize how tough they can be yet. They are going to compete. As coaches, that's the foundation and the one thing that you can't always change. We're really happy. They're really hungry and they want to go out and play hard."
The Tigers return four players from last year's squad and add the services of three newcomers, a senior transfer and two freshmen. Schmid will look to veteran senior Jamie Mera and senior transfer Nina Pantic to provide leadership during the season. A native of Tampa, Fla., Mera compiled a 15-10 singles record as a junior last season, including a win over Taylor Ormond of No. 7 Baylor.
"Jamie's really excited to have an excellent senior year," Schmid said. "She's a solid player who brings a ton of experience to the team and a lot of stability to the team as a leader. She has really high expectations so it's been fun to see her really buy in to our program and embrace making the most of her final season."
Pantic is a UCLA transfer who earned her bachelor's degree in December and is now enrolled in Missouri's School of Journalism's graduate program. The Lake Worth, Fla., native was the nation's No. 4 overall recruit coming out of high school, earned a Pac-10 Conference singles title as a sophomore and was a part of a Bruins team that made the NCAA Final Four a season ago.
"Nina brings a really high level of experience playing, that's a perspective that really helps our team as we try to move our program forward," Schmid said. "I think she's going to be someone who will be a tremendous player in singles and doubles for us. She has really bought into the program we have at Missouri and wants to help start our first year on a strong note."
Joining Mera and Pantic as upperclassmen are a pair of juniors, Maria Christensen and Annamijn Koenen. Christensen, who hails from Hellerup, Denmark, is coming off an effective sophomore season after posting an overall record of 16-8 in singles action, which included a 7-4 mark in Big 12 play.
"Maria is a tremendous talent and a tremendous competitor, I think she's really going to be someone who is going to be anxious to get on the court and play her best tennis," Schmid said. "She's in great shape and I think she's going to be able to get herself to a higher level this season playing against a higher level of opponent.
Koenen earned two straight set wins a year ago, her first at Mizzou after transferring from Arkansas, before but missed a lot of time due to injuries. She is now healthy and ready to help the Tigers.
"Annamijn came back in the last tournament in the fall and had a really good showing at Regionals," Schmid said. "I know she wants to springboard after that. She has a lot of natural talent in doubles and she will really be able to contribute with us. It will be really fun for her to be healthy and to get a lot of matches under her belt."
Stuhlmann returns for her second year with the program after a successful inaugural campaign. The St. Louis, Mo., native finished with a 19-11 mark in singles play last year, including an 8-3 record in Big 12 matches.
"Rachel is coming off of a really strong freshman year," Schmid said. "She's looking to improve her game and take it to the next level. She's really worked hard in all aspects in changing and making some improvements."
A native of London, England, freshman Alex Clark comes to Missouri after a successful prep career. In International Tennis Federation competition, she advanced to the quarterfinals in four singles tournaments and the quarterfinals or better in 11 doubles tournaments, including one final. This fall, Clark claimed a singles title in the Wake Forest Invitational in September.
"I think as the season goes on we'll continue to see Alex get better and better," Schmid said. "She's a huge talent and she really has no limit on what she can do this year. We're really excited to put her in a lot of matches and let her grow."
Chiaf, who hails from Edmond, Okla., helped her high school team to four consecutive state titles. She was undefeated as a freshman, sophomore and junior in doubles action and lost only one match as senior at No. 1 singles.
"We tweaked probably every part of (Ashleigh's) game," Schmid said. "She's been a great sport about it. She's really going to be excited to put all those new things in her game, her new strategy and her new mentality into competition. Now she just needs to play a lot of matches and let it all settle in. She's in a great position to do really well this spring."
The 2012 slate will be as challenging as they come, with 12 of the Tigers' 21 regular season matches against opponents ranked in the preseason rankings. After opening the season at the Indiana Invitational Jan. 14-16, the team travels to No. 20 Notre Dame (Jan. 22) and No. 7 Georgia (Jan. 27), where they will also face either No. 66 Fresno State or No. 72 Florida International.
Mizzou opens the home portion of the schedule on Feb. 4 as the team hosts Arkansas-Fort Smith. In all, the squad has eight home matches on the slate, including four against Big 12 foes.
"We have a very difficult schedule, it's really challenging. We have a lot of road matches against a lot of good teams. I just want to start the season and see what exactly happens."
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