By (Ben Boynton)

The match was even at one set apiece, and was heading into the tiebreaker.

Alabama senior Natalia Maynetto was going to have to play hard to win the match against her TCU opponent. Before she took the court, coach Jenny Mainz had a few words of advice for her player.

“You’re a veteran,” Mainz said she told Maynetto. “You have more experience than most of the people in this whole indoor facility. Use that poise, use that composure, use that experience to your advantage.”

Maynetto won the tiebreaker 10-8, to give the Crimson Tide an overall victory over TCU in the second day of the Wildcat Duals on the campus of Northwestern University.

That experience is something the team will use to its advantage, both overall this season and this weekend when they host Penn, Purdue, and Texas as part of the ITA Kick-off Weekend. The winner of the weekend advances to the 2016 ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship in Madison, Wisconsin, an event the Crimson Tide has been to several times in recent history, including this past season. Mainz believes the experience many of her players have will be an asset this season.

“I think there’s a lot of value in the veteran mentality, the experience,” Mainz said. “You’ve been through it, and the pressure.”

The team roster features two seniors, three juniors, two sophomores, and one freshman. It’s a good balance that’s not heavy on any one class. However, having five upperclassmen certainly is a benefit to the team.

“It’s really helpful, all of the experience that they have,” sophomore Aryn Greene said. “They’ve gone through a lot of tough, pressure situations, and I think it is inspiring for us to hear those stories, and pull on that experience. I think they’re all really supportive and encouraging.”

Junior Erin Routliffe is one of those experienced players. Routliffe and senior Maya Jansen are back-to-back NCAA doubles champions. She feels that her experiences help her continue to improve and play high-level tennis, and that the team’s experience helps in the locker room.

“Having that experience of playing dual matches and playing at home, it’s so different playing at home than playing at other places,” Routliffe said. “I think it definitely helps us have a lot of leaders on this team.

She also feels that a successful team balances younger and older players.

“It’s good to have veterans but it’s also good to have some rookies on the team, and I think we have a good balance of both,” Routliffe said.

The Crimson Tide also prides itself on playing tough opponents. The team speaks highly of opponents like TCU, Northwestern, and DePaul, and all three are good teams. The same can be said about this weekend’s visitors, with No. 40 Texas and No. 45 Purdue ranked well by the ITA. Saturday’s opponent Penn is not ranked, but it fields a team Mainz sees as dangerous, and Mainz loves to play tough teams early on to help her players get better.

“That was an invaluable experience at Northwestern, because we played three solid quality teams,” Mainz said. “A lot of times teams will play matches where they aren’t being pushed quite as much, but I feel like we really benefited from the high quality and competitive nature of the matches.”

The Crimson Tide is ranked No. 15 in the country, but it isn’t focused on that. The team is focused only on getting better and winning the matches in front of it, and the players will certainly draw on their experience to do it.

Alabama starts play this weekend against Penn at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Texas will also play Purdue at 2 p.m. The two winners will square off at 2 p.m. on Sunday, while the losers will play at 10 a.m. If the Crimson Tide wins the weekend, it will play in the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship, which starts on Feb. 5.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports