NORMAN, Okla. -- The University of Oklahoma women’s tennis team begins its fall season Friday, Sept. 20, splitting for two tournaments, the Country Club of Little Rock Invitational and Tribe Invitational in Williamsburg, Va.
This weekend will mark the first of seven tournaments the Sooners will play. Other fall events include visits to the ITA All-American Championships (Oct. 1) in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and the Wildcat Invitational (Oct. 4-6) before hosting the ITA Central Region Championships at the Gregg Wadley Tennis Pavilion in Norman Oct. 17-21. Those who advance from the central region will play at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championship in Flushing, N.Y., beginning Nov. 7 and the remaining will compete at the Northwestern Hidden Duals (Nov. 8-10) in Evanston, Ill.
The Sooners return every members of the team that finished 13-10 overall with a 5-4 Big 12 Conference record last spring with eyes set on improving at every position entering a new season.
“In the fall we are always willing to sacrifice some wins or success to ensure we are getting better,” OU head coach David Mullins said. “We have some goals as a team we hope to reach, but each girl has their own individual goals and ideas that they will be working towards also.”
The Sooners ended the 2012-13 season ranked 35th nationally. Their 2013-14 season is highlighted by the return of seniors Hermon Brhane and Whitney Ritchie, who received All-American honors as a doubles pair, becoming the first Sooner duo to capture the honors since 1988.
“They proved last year they could compete with anyone,” Mullins said. “They learned a lot last spring and if they both play well at the same time on the same day they can beat anyone. They will have great opportunities time and time again this fall to get wins over other ranked opponents and they are both working hard to make sure their senior year is a special one.”
In addition to Brhane and Ritchie, OU returns sophomores Emma Devine and Zita Engbroks, junior Abbi Melrose and seniors Whitney Wofford and Mia Lancaster. Wofford, Melrose and Lancaster were all named to the 2013 Academic All-Big 12 team.
“We will be looking this fall to see how our returners have made improvements and are continuing to put in the work that is required if any significant progress is to be made,” Mullins said. “We are just looking to see who can be ultra-competitive with every match they play this fall. That does not just mean winning matches, but who is able to find a way every time they step on court to keep things close. I am excited to see which players separate themselves from the pack this fall.”
Along with the returning team members, the Sooners will welcome two new members to fall competition. Freshmen Morgan Chumney and Ann Pepper will begin their collegiate careers this weekend.
“Morgan is a special athlete and extremely coachable,” Mullins said. “She beat a player this summer who has been a consistent top-50 national collegiate player these last three years.”
“Ann could have accepted scholarship offers elsewhere but chose to walk-on here at OU. I am excited to see how she competes in fall competition in the weeks ahead and we are very lucky to have her be part of our squad.”
Chumney was a doubles finalist at the UTSA National Regional 18s and Southern Closed 18s. She advanced to the round of 16 singles at the UTSA Regional tournament where she captured a doubles championship. Chumney came to OU as the No. 63 player in the nation and No. 20 player in the Southeast.
Pepper was the class 6A regional champion and finished in third place in No. 1 singles at the Class 6A state championship. As a junior she was a No. 1 doubles state champion and a No. 2 singles champion as a freshman. Pepper was the No. 2 player in Oklahoma and was the Oklahoman’s All City Girls Player of the Year in 2013.
One major highlight in the Sooners fall schedule is the ITA Central Regional, which will be held at OU Oct. 17-21. Held in Tulsa last fall, this year’s regional will allow for a home court advantage for the Sooners.
“The last time we hosted, our No. 1 player won both the singles and doubles event that year, so I would say it is a huge advantage to be hosting,” Mullins said. “The regional is always an important tournament for us as it gives every player on our team a chance to prove themselves against the top players in the region in an open draw.”