Half the roster for the Ohio State women’s tennis team is composed of freshmen, but the Buckeyes youth doesn’t mean they can’t play with the best of them.
Senior Noelle Malley said her team can hang with anyone in the Big Ten.
“We’ve been working so hard recently,” she said. “I think we’re right there with them.”
The Buckeyes are unranked while three other Big Ten teams, No. 10 Michigan, No. 12 Northwestern and No. 16 Nebraska, find themselves in the top 25.
“It’s going to be hard, keeping up our focus and intensity and when we go out there, not being afraid of them, which we aren’t,” Malley said. “It’s exciting.”
Senior Kelsey Becker, said her goal for the team goes beyond the conference.
“We definitely want to make the NCAA tournament this year, we haven’t made it the past three years since I’ve been here,” she said. “I think we can do it this year, I think we have a really good team.”
The Buckeyes have not made it to the tournament since 2009, and as they prepare for a run at the ultimate goal in the spring, are scheduled to finish preseason this weekend in Los Angeles, Calif., at the Jack Kramer tournament.
Coach Melissa Schaub said the preseason schedule has been all about experience for her young squad.
“The fall season like this is just about getting matches in, just getting a bunch of matches under your belt, preparing ourselves for the spring season,” she said.
Schaub added that she has seen strong showings from her team, top to bottom.
“The freshmen have stepped up big time, and we’ve had good leadership from our seniors,” she said. “It’s been really good so far.”
Schaub stressed that every one of her freshmen have impressed, but singled out one in particular.
“I think (freshman Gabriella DeSantis) has had an unbelievable fall season, coming in as a freshman,” she said. “You’re never really sure how that person is going to react to a different environment, being away from home.”
Of the four youngsters, three are from outside of the U.S. DeSantis is from Caracas, Venezuela, Ferny Angeles Paz hails from Lima, Peru, and Miho Kowase comes from Tokyo.
Schaub said the diverse roster is commonplace in the sport.
“In tennis, it happens,” she said. “Tennis is such a universal sport, it’s big in other countries, so it’s not that uncommon to have a fairly international team.”
Malley said she enjoys having international teammates, especially as a senior leader on the team.
“It’s awesome, they’re so much fun,” she said. “We have so many different cultures and we’re talking about doing a dinner where we each make a home cooked meal.”
Malley added that there might be some extra perks of forming bonds with individuals from around the world.
“We have places to visit out of the country now, if we want to,” she said.
Becker said each of the freshmen have done well to adjust, but that at least two of the newcomers might have had a leg up.
“It’s kind of cute because (Paz) and (DeSantis) knew each other before because they’re both from South America,” she said. “They’re all just really sweet, and doing a really good job.”
Even with such a diverse and young roster, Schaub said her team is already better than last year, but the main thing is improving each day.
“It’s about every time you go on the court, competing as hard as you can and trying to get better in every match that you play,” Schaub said. “If that happens, then we’re going to be happy leaving a tournament.”
After their weekend in California, the Buckeyes are scheduled to have plenty of practice time before diving into their regular season against Baylor Jan. 18 in Waco, Texas.