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Sports Tennis

Five freshmen look to drive Drake’s fall campaign

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Freshman Evy Van Genechten is only two weeks into her Drake women’s tennis career, but she’s already eyeing the Missouri Valley Conference’s top prize: the MVC team title.

“Coach, this morning, he sent us all a message,” Van Genechten said. “He was looking online, and he was looking through the conference, and he said, ‘OK, guys, I think we could actually win this.’ So, we’re really focused on winning conference.”

Before the State Farm MVC Championship opens next spring, though, Drake’s five freshmen look to gain experience this fall. The Bulldogs’ fall season opens Friday with the Drake Fall Invitational.

“It’s our first year as freshmen we all have to get used to it,” Van Genechten said.

Drake’s freshman class includes two European players, who face added adjustments.

Clay is the primary surface in Europe, but the U.S. favors hard courts. For Van Genechten and fellow freshman Lea Kozulic, team play is also new.

The adjustments are familiar for junior Klavdija Rebol, who hails from Kranj, Slovenia.

“It’s a little different from the spring, so first of all, we have new players who are European, so they are not used to the surface and playing on teams,” Rebol said. “I think we just need to get used to it first and see what’s going to happen.”

Despite Drake’s young roster, Rebol is already optimistic about spring play.

“It’s kind of hard to start with five freshmen,” Rebol said. “I think they’re all pretty good. We’ve played some matches already. They’re good players, so with a little bit of matches this fall, it’s going to work out in the spring season.”

For Rebol, new players bring new energy, new personalities and new leadership.

“It’s really good to have new people on the team,” Rebol said. “We gain a lot of girls who are new and excited about it. We need to get together, like me, Ali (Patterson), Amanda (Dick) and Nell (Boyd). We need to lead the team.”

Thomson expects Patterson, Drake’s lone senior, to lead on the court and in the classroom.

“Ali is going to be a great role model,” Thomson said. “She’s a very good student. She’s had a tough career with injuries and coming back, but she’s kind of seen where the program was and the pick-up that we’ve had, and she knows where this program can be.”

After finishing 22-7 last season, Thomson anticipates a strong 2012-13 campaign. He’s counting on the freshmen to power Drake’s MVC title chase. Albeit lacking experience, Thomson said Drake’s young lineup boasts athleticism and enthusiasm.

“The freshmen are going to be catalysts to drive the team this year,” Thomson said. “There are five new players that are all very athletic. They’re all very accomplished tennis players, and they’re going to be the ones that add wheels to the vehicle that’s Ali and Klavdija and Amanda and Nell from last year.”

Thanks to a newfound can-do attitude, the Bulldogs are looking to top last year’s 5-2 MVC record.

“It’s the small things that we didn’t get down last year,” Thomson said. “I think last year we reached the point of, ‘I think we can, I think we can, I think we can,’ and now, the next thing we’re going to do, especially for returning players is getting to the point of, ‘I know we will.’”

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