By Danny Hoffman, Maryland Media Relations Student Assistant
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Youth is served for the University of Maryland women’s tennis team. Of the Terps’ eight-member roster, all but one of the players is an underclassman.
“We are children,” head coach Daria Panova said. “For four of them it is their first semester and for three of them it is their second semester. We only have one person [with experience], and she is a redshirt junior.”
A young team is nothing new for Panova here at Maryland. Last year, her first as the Terps’ head coach, she had five first year players, three of whom are still on the team for the 2013-14 season. But that is where the comparisons between last year and this year end for the women’s tennis team.
“I wasn’t here last year, but Daria said that the difference between last year and this year is crazy, and we are looking really good,” said Olivia Gaudreault, one of this year’s freshmen.
The four freshmen, Gaudreault, Kristina Hovsepyan, Alexandra Stanova, and Cassandre Thebault, look to make an impact immediately for the Terps, and will have to grow up quickly in order for this team to have the kind of success that they expect.
“Everyone can agree that there is no comparison to last year,” Panova said. “We are much better, but we cannot just settle for being better than last year. We want to be good enough to be great.”
Panova has created a new set of standards for Maryland tennis, and her four freshmen seem to be the key to putting together the kind of achievement Panova anticipates.
Kristina Hovsepyan, a freshman from Denver, Colorado, transferred to the prestigious Chris Evert Tennis Academy in Florida after her sophomore year of high school. Her experience there has helped her on the court and off of it as she transitions to both college tennis and college life.
“I went to a tennis academy for two years in Florida before this so I was away from my family and in boarding school, so being away from family hasn’t been that big of a difference in college,” said Hovsepyan.
“I like the training a lot here because we are with the coaches and the other players a lot,” she added. “It was like that at the academy, but not the same because we are more of a team as opposed to competing against each other there. I think I’ve adjusted pretty well.”
Hovsepyan has also stepped up early for the Terps, advancing to the semifinals of the Cissie Leary Invitational, her first college tournament.
Her head coach has high praise for her. “Kristina probably has the best hands I have ever seen for a freshman,” Panova said. “She can come in a couple of times a game, which a lot of adult and professional players do not do. If she works hard and she keeps getting better she can be great.”
Another of the Terp freshmen is local Olivia Gaudreault of Annapolis. Terp tennis has been in her blood ever since her grandfather played at Maryland, so she is natural member of the Maryland tennis community. She is a high-energy “glue that holds the team together” type player, according to Coach Panova.
Gaudreault’s enthusiasm is key for her tennis team, and she sees the Terps’ youth as an opportunity for camaraderie, as opposed to a necessary hurdle. “I actually love [how young we are] because we are going to be together for four years in the same place,” she explained. “We all get along so well. The atmosphere and energy is so good.”
Maryland women’s tennis also welcomes in two international freshmen to the tennis program. For Alex Stanova and Cassandre Thebault, the challenges of playing college tennis and balancing schoolwork are enhanced by the challenges of being in a foreign country.
Alex Stanova, a freshman from Slovakia, dominated youth completion before Maryland, winning 11 national tournaments in singles and 13 national tournament titles in doubles.
Panova applauded her freshman; “She has every stroke in the book. She knows how to create, but she just needs to get her timing, her tiredness, and her soreness out of the way, so she can succeed individually and be one of the better players on the team.”
Getting used to the difficulty of college tennis is enough to help Stanova get over the issues of being so far away from home. “It is my first time being away from home. It is difficult, she said. “I am missing my family and friends a lot, but I am enjoying myself and I am so busy that I do not really have time to think about all of that.”
The Terps’ other international freshman is Cassandre Thebault from France. Panova described Thebault as “amazingly talented and blessed with incredible physical characteristics. She is tall and strong.”
Coach Panova is very high on of her freshmen. “All of them take criticism very well,” she said. “If you tell them they need to work harder they nod and try to work harder. We are learning, and in the first month they already learned more than a lot of people.”
If they all play as well as they could, and improve as quickly as Panova thinks they should, how much better can this Maryland tennis team be? Kristina Hovsepyan thinks this team can achieve big things. “I think everyone’s ultimate goal is to make NCAAs at the end of the year,” she said.