By (Cody Estremera)

Thursday marks the start of the fall season for the Alabama women’s tennis team.

The Crimson Tide travels to Houston to take part in the Rice Invitational, which begins Friday and concludes Sunday. There will be 16 different teams present.

“Everyone is excited to finally be playing a tournament,” sophomore Andie Daniell said. “We are going in there with high expectations. Most of us are ready to finally compete, and compete really hard. We want to just go out there and do our best.”

Alabama struggled last season, finishing the season ranked 14th in the country with a 18-8 record, and coach Jenny Mainz is making sure that the Crimson Tide bounces back this year by focusing on the culture of the team.

“We had a good team and lost seven 4-3 matches,” Mainz said. “We just couldn’t turn the corner. The team dynamics were a part of that. We’ve worked really hard that we are all playing together, that the energy is good and so is the spirit. You just can’t take things for granted.”

The players came up with five words that represents the new culture: courage, family, passion, grit and consistency.

Senior Erin Routliffe believes these words describe the team, and that was the point. The words are supposed to help the team if it’s struggling or doesn’t feel like practicing. It’s a baseline the players can continuously turn back to for motivation.

“Courage is to have the ability to go for your shots, passion simply doing what you love,” Routliffe said. “Grit is the tougher side of passion. Consistency is working day in and day out and working on what we need to work on.”

To start off the new season, Routliffe is No. 18 in singles. She is paired with No. 33 Daniell for doubles matches. Together, they are ranked 34th in the country.

Daniell believes her ranking isn’t a true testament of where she should be ranked, but she tries not to worry about the rankings and focus on the team. She doesn’t mind the pressure of being ranked, though, because that’s what the sport is about.

There are three new players on the seven-player team. There is junior transfer Smith Hinton, along with freshmen Maddie Pothook and Juliana Valero.

Early season tournaments, such as the Rice Invitational, are key in building team chemistry.

The fall is also when the team looks to implement the work that was put in over the summer and the couple weeks of practice since school began.

“Right now is an evaluation time,” Mainz said. “It’s the time to see what we are made of. We see what doubles combinations look good and who can play well together. Identifying the strengths of the team, because the fall is a developmental time. You are fine tuning parts of your game.”

Mainz believes the biggest thing the Crimson Tide needs to do is simply play matches, just focus on gaining confidence throughout the quality tournaments.

The practice format has changed this season, as the team is putting an extra emphasis on being able to make quick starts during matches, which was one of the biggest problems the Crimson Tide had last year.

“We’ve changed the format of our scoring [during practice],” Mainz said. “If you aren’t ready to start then you are really in trouble. We’ve made sure that we have put plenty of time into doubles so that we can grab that doubles point.”

The new season is a fresh slate for the Crimson Tide. The players aren’t focused on what happened last year or in previous years. The goal is make this a comeback season.

“Things are cyclical. You can’t blink,” Mainz said. “You have to work hard every day. You can’t become complacent and take things for granted.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports